WILLIAMSTOWN - A tanker truck and a passenger vehicle collided on the Interstate 77 bridge Monday evening, resulting in a fiery explosion and three deaths.
Wood County Coroner Mike St. Clair said three people died in the crash. Their bodies were sent to the West Virginia State Medical Examiner's Office for identification, he said.
As of 11 p.m., authorities had not been able to get enough access to the smaller vehicle to discern a license plate number or how many occupants were inside.
Photo by Jeff Baughan
Emergency vehicles block the southbound lane to the I-77 bridge at Williamstown after extinguishing flames on the tanker truck Monday evening.
Wood County Sheriff Jeff Sandy estimated it would be close to midnight before a truck large enough to move the tanker - which was carrying liquid nitrogen - would arrive.
The victims were in the passenger vehicle, Sandy said. The driver of the tanker, whose name was not available late Monday, was not injured, he said.
The accident was reported at 8:12 p.m., according to a dispatcher with the Wood County 911 center. Except for a few vehicles let through in the northbound lane, all four lanes of the bridge, which spans the Ohio River just outside Marietta and Williamstown, remained closed as of 11 p.m.
Spencer resident James Caldwell, 37, was at the Hampton Inn in Marietta when the crash occurred.
"I just walked out in the parking lot and heard the kaboom," Caldwell said. "It sounded like a cannon went off."
Marian Rutherford, working at Pioneer Family Golf, heard multiple blasts and saw the resulting flames.
"Big booms- two of them and then a couple smaller ones," she said. "And then we could hear crackling."
Marietta College student Justin Gutberlet was leaving the school when he saw multiple emergency vehicles heading for the bridge. He called his parents to see what was going on.
"(They) could see the flames clear from Reno at the top of Sand Hill," Gutberlet said.
He and several other people were watching the scene from the patio at Pioneer Family Golf.
"(The fire) was probably three times the size it is now, and (there was) more black smoke," he said.
The Wood County Crash Team - made up of officers from the Wood County Sheriff's Department and Parkersburg and Vienna police - was investigating the crash, Sandy said. Because of the fire and other conditions, they were not able to begin processing the scene until around 10:15 p.m.
On the West Virginia side, the Williamstown, Vienna, Waverly and Deerwalk volunteer fire departments responded to the scene. In Ohio, the Marietta police, Ohio Highway Patrol, Washington County Sheriff's Office, Marietta Fire Department and Reno Volunteer Fire Department responded.
The Ohio Department of Transportation was rerouting vehicles to exit 6 on Interstate 77, directing them to Ohio 821 south to Ohio 60, then to Ohio 7 south to U.S. 50 east across the Blennerhassett Island Bridge, into West Virginia and back to I-77.