COCOLALLA — A tractor-trailer filled with ammonium nitrate crashed early Saturday afternoon, closing U.S. 95 for an extended period and leaking about 500 gallons of the liquid fertilizer into a nearby drainage ditch.
The driver, John M. Moody, 62, of Peck, was killed in the crash.
Idaho State Police said Moody was northbound on U.S. 95 near milepost 460 in the Cocolalla Flats area when he drifted off the roadway onto the right shoulder, causing his rig to overturn about 1:14 p.m. The crash closed the highway for about seven hours as crews worked to make the scene safe and secure.
Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler said he was advised the dilution of ammonium nitrate in the tanker was a low percentage. The chemical is mainly used as a fertilizer but can also be used for explosives.
While homes near the accident were far enough away that residents did not have to be evacuated, Wheeler said those living in the area were advised to stay inside until the scene could be secured because the chemical can cause respiratory problems.
Traffic was initially stopped about a half mile from the accident but that safety perimeter was later extended to about a mile, according to Sagle area resident Esther Gilchrist.
People traveling in the area were being detoured in Athol through the Newport area to Highway 2 in order to get to Sandpoint.
Drivers who came across the accident shortly after it happened said the tractor-trailer was laying along the east side of the highway, the cab of the 2010 Peterbilt tractor-trailer flipped onto its top and the tanker filled with ammonium nitrate was on its side, crumpled and resting next to a drainage ditch.
“I’m guessing we all arrived within just minutes after it happened,” said Robert Yost of Coeur d’Alene.
Several drivers stopped and rushed to the tractor-trailer’s cab — Yost estimated about five or six — to try and render aid. The rig’s exhaust pipe was torn off the cab in an effort to get better access to the door, however, they weren’t able to get it open very far, he said.
Rescuers pried open the door to the tractor-trailer’s sleeper cabin but they were unable to get to the driver.
“We just couldn’t get to him, we couldn’t free him,” he said.
When emergency crews arrived, they told Yost and the others they needed to move away from the accident to a safer location because of the ammonium nitrate in the tanker was leaking as was diesel from the tractor-trailer.
“You could see the fumes coming off the truck,” said Yost.
Another tractor-trailer had to be sent to the scene so the chemical remaining in the tanker could be transferred into an undamaged container, Wheeler said.
Hazmat crews in protective suits were called in to clean up the diesel and ammonium nitrate which leaked into a drainage ditch on the east side of the highway.
“We’re very fortunate all collected in the drainage ditch along the roadway and not close to a fast-moving stream,” Wheeler said. “That’s always a concern in this situation.”