Last Updated: 5:42 p.m.
A wreck involving two tractor trailers and resulting in the death of 41-year-old Christopher James McEuen of Jacksonville shut down I-95 in both directions in Palm Coast at 3:45 a.m. Tuesday. I-95 northbound will not re-open until at least nightfall on Christmas Eve.
One of the trailers was a fuel truck. It struck the other trailer, rolled over, and exploded in the collision, officials said, killing the driver and spilling the flaming fuel onto the highway, which sustained severe damage around mile marker 291 on I-95.
The second driver, 33-year-old St. Clair Agenord of Winter Haven, was not hurt, and was at the scene, cooperating with investigators–until he was arrested on an out-of-county warrant and booked at the Flagler County jail at 11:10 this morning. Gaston said Agenord was arrested on a “minor” misdemeanor: non-payment of child-support. He was being held on $2,000 bond.
No other vehicles were involved, Florida Highway Patrol Capt. Keith Gaston said.
911 Wreck Call, 3:45 a.m.[media id=360 width=250 height=75]
Further investigation indicated that the tanker rear-ended the other truck, which was empty. Agenord was traveling north in the right lane of the three-lane highway. So was McEuen, whose tanker struck Agenor’s trailer on its left rear. “The driver of the tanker was unable to exit,” FHP reports, and was killed in the wreck. McEuen’s tanker was registered to Florida Rock and Tank Lines Inc., of Jacksonville. McEuen was originally from Akron, Ohio. He’d been driving for Rock and Tank Lines since February 2012, according to his Facebook profile.
The northbound lanes of I-95 were to be closed for the day. The fire has damaged the asphalt to the point that it will have to be replaced, Gaston said, describing the scene as devastating. The southbound lanes were to reopen sooner.
“Because of the heat of the fire the asphalt is damaged significantly,” Gaston said, speaking to reporters under a morning drizzle at the 289 exit. “The road is going to be closed for an extended period of time. The asphalt will actually have to be replaced after we finish our investigation, so we’re looking at hours before this road can be opened again.”
Additional 911 Calls, 3:45-3:47 a.m.[media id=361 width=250 height=75]
Speaking to a reporter at noon, Gaston said the wrecked truck began to be moved only at around 11:30 a.m. Road repairs had not yet started just then.
“We’ve got a crew in route and they’ve got all the other things to get started when we can,” Gaston said, “so we’re probably looking at 5 or 6 tonight at the earliest that we’ll be open. That depends on what we find.” If the damage to the road is more severe, or requires such things as further environmental clean-up, the delay will be extended.
Palm Coast Fire Chief Mike Beadle said his crews arrived on scene shortly after the explosion and the fire started, but were held back half a mile away from it until authorities could figure out what sort of fuel was burning.
Beadle said he and another official walked to within a quarter mile of the fire and found the truck’s manifest, which confirmed that the fuel was gasoline, thus eliminating fears that it was a more hazardous material. Nevertheless, a hazardous materials team was and remains on stand-by, Beadle said. No homes were in danger. (The Dispatch Center’s notes indicate that the manifest was found at 4:24 a.m. Only then were authorities entirely sure that it was not a toxic emergency.)
“Once we found out it was gasoline, there was no danger for anyone,” Beadle said. Sixteen firefighters were on the fire. The fire was allowed to burn itself out, Beadle said, which is normal procedure in this sort of situation, as crews worked to contain it, then throw foam on it. The fire was out by about 6:15 a.m. But it consumed the roadway down to the roadbed, making it impassable.
The Palm Coast Fire Police is rerouting northbound traffic off I-95 at Exit 289 (Palm Coast Parkway). Southbound traffic was rerouted off exit 298, but began to flow again at 6:10 a.m.
Media were held up from reaching the scene since 5 a.m., then taken to within 100 yards of the scene at 8 a.m. The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating.
The original 911 calls reporting the explosion were received at 3:45 a.m. and were placed from the highway and from the F and B Sections, which are adjacent to the area of the crash, and where residents reported seeing flames they attributed either to a forest fire or to house fires. A caller from the Interstate described the crash accurately, between expressions of disbelief. Another caller reported two explosions. According to 911 records, dispatchers received calls from Frenora Lane, Birchwood Drive, Birshire Lane and Lakeside Place. Agenord himself called 911 and was already aware of the likely fatality of the other driver by 3:58 a.m.
At 4:22, authorities were calling for immediate help to redirect some 200 vehicles in I-95’s northbound lanes in the area of the crash, to turn them around back to Palm Coast Parkway and clear the road. The highway was finally cleared at 4:50 a.m. By 5 a.m., authorities already knew that they needed to have I-95’s entrance at Palm Coast Parkway barricaded and shut down “for the majority of the day,” the notes indicate.
The fire was almost out by 5 a.m.
At 5:07 a.m., four vehicles blew past the barricades and toward the wreck scene, without authorization. Police chased the vehicles, stopped the drivers at 5:25 a.m., and issued them each a citation. The four drivers in their cars were then escorted back south.
Although one FHP official said at 8:15 that the northbound lanes would be closed for at least another two hours, another FHP official said that it could be longer than that, given what had just taken place at the scene: an official from the Medical Examiner’s office said he was not on his own able to remove and piece together the remains of the driver killed in the accident, and would have to wait for additional personnel from the office, including possible the medical examiner himself, to get to the scene and conduct some of the preliminary examination there. That means the road would remain closed until that operation is concluded–and until the roadbed itself is repaired.
“At this point US1 is going to be saturated with traffic,” Gaston said. “Anybody that’s coming from the Orlando area, they may want to consider using I-75 or the Turnpike or 301.”
Northbound traffic began to back up at the 289 exit around 6 a.m., and snarled south of the exit on what is one of the heaviest travel days of the year, but by 7:30 a.m. the back-up had dissipated.
Of the fuel truck itself, Beadle said “there’s very little left. The shell of the cab is left and pieces of steel” along with the frame of the trailer are all that remain, leaving “a big hunk of metal sitting on the interstate.”
In early afternoon, Flagler County Sheriff’s Lt. Bob Weber issued the following advisory: “The City of Palm Coast has re-timed traffic lights along State Road 100 from the I-95 interchange to Belle Terre Parkway in order to ease traffic congestion along that stretch of roadway. FPH has assigned a Trooper to the intersection of East Moody Blvd (State Road 100) and US 1 to control the traffic signal at that location and keep traffic moving.”
The Palm Coast Fire Department and Flagler County Fire Rescue responded, along with FHP, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Medical Examiner’s Office. The Flagler Beach Fire Department and Bunnell fire volunteers were also called up but were cancelled from the scene itself, and requested to stand by to cover other areas of the county in case of additional emergencies.
Soon after 12:30 p.m., authorities were called to another wreck that was causing some road blockage at mile marker 281, also in the northbound lanes of I-95. The wreck proved less than serious.
Early on Christmas day, James Wigington left the following message on McEuen’s Facebook page: “My prayers go out to anyone who knows this man. My father was a trucker and so are my brothers. People say money makes the world go round but really… trucks do. If it weren’t for men like this running the road we wouldn’t have our Christmas’s that we love so much. I will say a prayer every time I pass that part of I-95 and any family that is out there, know this, Christopher will be thought of and remembered forever. God Bless.”