Tanker explosion on I-5 darkened Lynnwood

  • Katherine Schiffner<br>For the Enterprise
  • Friday, February 22, 2008 12:04pm

LYNNWOOD — The Washington State Patrol is still investigating whether the driver of a tanker truck that exploded July 12 was asleep when he crashed into a guardrail at the 44th Avenue W. overpass.

“Witnesses have said he looked like he was falling asleep,” State Patrol Trooper Lance Ramsay said July 14.

Driver Gary M. Brammer, 32, of Puyallup, will be cited in the accident, Ramsay said, possibly with negligent driving.

The tanker, carrying 11,300 gallons of unleaded gasoline, drifted off I-5 into a guardrail, witnesses told the state patrol. Brammer had just enough time to scramble out and run away before the explosion.

State patrol investigators want to question Brammer, but hadn’t reached him since he left Providence Everett Medical Center on the afternoon of July 12, Ramsay said.

Brammer has always been a good employee, his trucking company said July 14. He’s worked for Portland, Ore.-based Harris Trucking Company for about four years, including time he worked at a company now owned by Harris, said Mike Dailey, the company’s safety manager.

“We’re all thankful Gary was fine and that no one was injured,” Dailey said Monday. “He’s a good driver.”

The company has temporarily suspended Brammer, which is standard when there is an accident, Dailey told the Associated Press on July 14.

On July 12 Brammer was delivering gas to Wal-Mart in Marysville, Ramsay said. Brammer had made one other delivery since starting work that day at 7:30 a.m., Dailey said.

The log that listed the hours Brammer worked on July 11 and July 12 was destroyed in the fire, Dailey said, but the company is investigating the crash. He’s also trying to help the State Patrol contact Brammer.

Brammer got a traffic ticket from the State Patrol last month for driving with his wheels off the roadway, but Dailey did not know if he was driving a tanker or his own vehicle. Brammer was also convicted of drug possession in 1990.

Brammer could not be reached by phone at his mother’s house in Puyallup on July 14.

The only damage the explosion caused to the bridge appears to have been to the surface of the roadway, state Department of Transportation officials said July 14.

“The bridge is perfectly safe,” said Dave McCormick, the state transportation department’s assistant regional administrator for maintenance and traffic.

Crews worked the night of July 13 and early July 14 morning to smooth out sections of the rough roadway and will do more work later this week.

“We’ve gone to the bridge and made some real improvements in the ride,” McCormick said. “It’s a lot less bumpy.”

Officials will inspect the bridge this weekend, he said. The bridge will have to be resurfaced, which will mean some lane closures in the future “but we’re going to try to minimize the impact (to drivers) as much as possible,” McCormick said.

About 100 feet of guardrail destroyed by the tanker will also need to be replaced, he said. All repairs are expected to be finished by fall.

The crash has already cost $30,000 in department staff time and materials. No estimates are available yet on the total cost of repairs. If Brammer is found to be at fault, the trucking company will have to pay for the repairs.

Department of Transportation staff inspected the area for environmental damage, McCormick said, and did not find any problems. Samples of water from Scriber Creek and soil in the area were taken for further testing, he said.

The fire appears to have caused some damage to a Sound Transit construction project at the site of the fire, but it’s too early to say how severe the damage is and how much it will cost to fix it, said Lee Somerstein, a Sound Transit spokesman.

“It appears the damages to our structure are only surface deep,” Somerstein said. “There may be deeper damage. It’s just too preliminary to know at this point.”

Sound Transit is building direct access ramps for buses to exit and enter I-5 without having to cross all lanes of traffic. The ramps will cost $31 million and be finished in 2005.

Injuries also were avoided in July 12’s explosion because construction crews working near the crash site were on a lunch break.

The explosion was a first for the Harris Transportation Company, Dailey and the State Patrol said July 14.

Harris has a good safety record, said State Patrol Commercial Vehicles Division Lt. Julie Johnson. The trucking company has 87 tankers and 155 drivers who deliver petroleum products in Oregon and Washington.

Harris Transportation Company vehicles have been involved in 10 crashes in the past two years. Two of those crashes caused injuries, Johnson said.

The company’s trucks have also been inspected 94 times in the past two years, and of those 16 were taken off the road for safety violations, she said, or 17 percent. Nationally, 23 percent of trucks inspected are pulled off the road.

Inspectors have also evaluated 133 of the company’s drivers in the past two years and only two were not allowed to continue driving, Johnson said.

No hazardous materials violations have been issued to the company in the past two years, Johnson said.

Katherine Schiffner is a reporter for the Herald in Everett.

Herald reporter Lukas Velush also contributed to this article.

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