Updated at 7:55 p.m.
WISE — A tanker truck hauling liquid nitrogen overturned on U.S. Route 23 between Wise and Pound in Wise County early Monday, prompting a temporary shutdown of the four-lane highway for about two hours to enable cleanup.
The Virginia State Police received the call shortly after 6 a.m. Monday about a tanker mishap at the bottom of Indian Creek Mountain at mile marker 50 of U.S. Route 23.
VSP Sgt. M.T. Conroy said two Nabors Completion & Production Service Co. tankers hauling liquid nitrogen were traveling one behind the other in the northbound lanes down the steep grade of Indian Creek Mountain when the driver of the following tanker, Larry Dobbs, 55, of Jenkins, Ky., reported the brakes on his rig gave out.
Dobbs' rig then rammed the rear of the leading tanker driven by Fitzhugh Stidham, 38, of Coeburn. Conroy said Dobbs' rig then went off the highway to the left, overturning in the median, while Stidham steered his tanker off the right side of the highway, coming safely to a stop in a ditch.
Emergency responders initially closed just one lane of U.S. Route 23 to deal with the mishap but then closed all lanes to enable cleanup because about 1,000 gallons of liquid nitrogen spilled. Liquid nitrogen quickly dissipates as a fog and poses little danger except for those in closest proximity, like emergency responders, primarily due to the super-freezing temperatures required to place nitrogen in a liquid state.
The scene was treated as a hazardous materials site so emergency responders could safely deal with the situation. Conroy said traffic was diverted onto State Route 823 until U.S. Route 23 could be fully reopened by around 10 a.m.
Both drivers were injured, but only Dobbs was transported to an area hospital with non-life threatening injuries, Conroy said.
The VSP is having the brake system inspected on the rig Dobbs was driving, and the crash is still under investigation, he said.
A Monday morning traffic crash involving a pair of trucks has closed a section of Route 23 in Wise County.
The Virginia State Police reports the wreck occurred at approximately 6:20 a.m. near mile marker 50. As of 9:15 a.m., north and southbound lanes in the area were expected to be closed for at least two additional hours.
The trucks were reportedly hauling liquid nitrogen, with one of the vehicles leaving the roadway and overturning in the median.
Due to leakage from the truck, the scene is being managed as a hazardous material incident. The Virginia Department of Emergency Management and HAZMAT crews are on scene working to contain and remove the leakage. The crash itself remains under investigation.
The VSP says only straight trucks and short-axle trucks 65 feet or less will be able to make the detour on Route 823.
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