NORTH ANDOVER — An explosive situation was avoided when a propane tank truck flipped onto its side as the driver sought to avoid ramming into another vehicle on a busy stretch of Route 114 late Monday morning.
Fire officials determined that the truck's safety systems performed as expected and that none of the potentially explosive liquefied propane in the truck's tank leaked. Surrounding neighborhoods were not evacuated, nor was a Stop & Shop and the nearby Jefferson Office Park, which are in the immediate vicinity of the accident.
The propane delivery truck rolled onto its side in the middle of the roadway, blocking the eastbound travel and median turn lanes, and most of the westbound lane.
A quarter-mile stretch of road was closed for about two hours as traffic was diverted and crews gingerly uprighted the truck filled with about 2,500 gallons of liquified propane.
Police Lt. Eric J. Foulds of the North Andover Police Department gave the following account:
At approximately 10:45 a.m., three vehicles heading eastbound on Route 114 in the area of 800 Turnpike Street (Route 114) approached the main entrance for an office park on the westbound side, and Stop & Shop, on the eastbound side.
The lead car, a Chrysler 300, slowed to turn left and into the Jefferson Office Park, while the second, unidentified car in line, slowed to accommodate the Chrysler.
The third vehicle, a propane transport truck owned by Osterman Propane, headquarted in Whitinsville but with local offices in Methuen, attempted to pass the first two vehicles on the right.
As he did so, the Osterman driver noted a vehicle already blocking the right lane.
The driver steered to the left and the propane truck began to yaw, striking the Chrysler and tipping over in the middle of the roadway.
Foulds said no citations had been issued Monday as the accident was under investigation. He declined to release the names of those involved while the investigation continued.
The Osterman driver was transported to the hospital with minor injuries, Foulds said, and an examination of the truck by the Massachusetts State Police Truck Team found no violations with the transport truck itself.
A woman at the scene who spoke with a reporter but declined to give her name, seemed to confirm this sequence of events, and said the propane truck was behind her as she slowed to allow another vehicle to turn left into the Jefferson Office Park.
She said it looked like the driver of the Osterman truck attempted to swerve to miss her and rolled onto its side.
Immediately after the accident, state and North Andover police cordoned off the area at the Route 114 and 125 split on the eastbound side of Turnpike Street, redirecting traffic onto side streets.
Although originally slated to be a three- to four-hour closure, by 12:27 p.m. technicians from Coady's Towing had rotated the truck back to its four tires using a crane and strap mechanism, and by 12:55 p.m. all lanes of Turnpike Street were reopened to traffic, less than two hours from the original accident.
Chief Andrew Melnikas of the North Andover Fire Department said the bulk delivery truck, also known as a “bobtail,” carried approximately 2,500 gallons of liquid propane at the time of the accident.
“The major concern you have with any accident involving a propane truck is whether it's leaking,” Melnikas said. “More often than not, it won't be, because of the construction of the vehicle.”
In the case of the accident on Route 114, Melnikas said their initial concerns for the neighboring businesses and residential areas were allayed by the integrity of the truck's valves and piping.
“We could see pretty quickly that nothing was leaking, the valves were shut down and the piping was intact,” Melnikas said. “Once you take that out of the equation, all we have to do is upright it.”
Still, some concerns lingered.
Melnikas said responders wondered if, in the process of lifting and rotating the truck back onto its wheels, “would you be jarring any of the piping?”
Melnikas said two technicians from Osterman Propane arrived and after examining the truck, deemed it safe to return it to its normal, upright position.
“It's always better to be safe,” Melnikas said. “Once the (Osterman) techs got there, and I know them both, and they said it was OK, so we felt comfortable.”
The lack of damage allowed emergency workers to clear the road faster than estimated at the beginning of the incident.
Melnikas said that was the result of being able to leave the liquid propane in the delivery truck's vessel.
Had there been a leak, Melnikas said workers would have been forced to transfer the propane to a different vehicle before righting it, which would have taken much longer.
Several calls to an Osterman Propane spokesman went unreturned yesterday, and someone answering the phone at the company said no one else was available for comment.
Reporter Bill Kirk contributed to this report.