Valdosta Daily Times

December 29, 2013

I-75 blast kills driver

Traffic snarled for miles in wake of deadly accident

Adam Floyd
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Black smoke filled the sky Saturday after a tractor-trailer hit a bridge on Interstate 75 and burst into flames, leaving one person dead.

Just before 1 p.m., a tractor-trailer truck traveling southbound on I-75 struck a pillar of the Old Clyattville Road bridge at Exit 13, according to SFC L. Carl Taylor with Georgia State Patrol. The truck was quickly engulfed in flames, and the driver, reportedly from Florida, was killed, said Taylor.

Investigators believe they know the identity of the man, but have withheld his name until his next-of-kin can be notified.

People in the area at the time of the crash reported hearing explosions.

“I was near the railroad diamond when I heard four loud booms, and the smoke followed,” said Gordon Davis, a bystander on the scene who was taking photos of smoke billowing from under the bridge.

The fire most likely originated from the fuel tank, said Taylor. The truck appeared to be carrying grocery items, and cartons of milk and orange juice were scattered along the road. Dispatch calls to personnel responding to the scene stated that cooking oil may have contributed to the blaze.

Initial reports from law enforcement on the scene indicated that the truck had been stolen from a

truck stop in the Cordele area, but the truck was not reported as stolen, said Taylor.

The owner of the truck had left his vehicle when another person drove off with it. The owner then hitchhiked to follow the truck on I-75, according to law enforcement on the scene, but it is unclear why the truck was not reported as stolen.

A blue pickup truck was also involved and damaged in the accident, but it is not known to what extent it was involved.

Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department deputies responded to the scene to coordinate traffic flows while the Lowndes County and Clyattville fire departments worked to extinguish the blaze.

Southbound traffic on I-75 was at a complete standstill for more than three hours while firefighters battled flames that charred the bridge and set fire to trees and grass near the overpass. The inside southbound lane was reopened at 4:30 p.m. Northbound traffic was halted until about 1:30 p.m.

Old Clyattville Road was closed to traffic at the bridge, forcing motorists to find alternate routes to cross the Interstate. The wreck caused major traffic disruptions for most of the afternoon.

The Georgia Department of Transportation was on the scene to investigate the structural integrity of the bridge, and the initial impression following the wreck was that there were no perceived structural issues with the bridge, said Taylor. The GDOT website that tracks road work and accidents across the state alerted motorists that normal traffic would not resume until 10 p.m.

The Georgia State Patrol continues investigating the incident.