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A late night propane truck accident on KY 44 resulted in a hectic Wednesday morning for motorists last week as authorities were forced to re-route traffic along Spencer County’s secondary roads for more than 10 hours.
According to authorities at the scene, the driver was headed west toward a Greenwell Bros. Propane storage facility located just past Spencer County Elementary School when a wheel dropped off the pavement and caused the truck to roll over on the passenger side. The driver, Gregory Shidler, refused medical treatment at the scene for minor abrasions and was not charged in accident. A representative from Greenwell Bros. Propane said that the driver was an employee of L&L Transport.
Taylorsville Police Chief Toby Lewis said that throughout the morning hours, motorists were provided detour directions depending on their knowledge of the county. Some were sent as far around as I-265/Gene Snyder Expressway, but many knew how to take the 40-minute scenic route through Waterford and Elk Creek to get around the accident.
As it became clear to Lewis that wrecker crews could be on the scene well into the morning, he notified school authorities around 5 a.m. and suggested they delay start times by a few hours.
Superintendent Chuck Adams said his decision to continue with classes at their regularly-scheduled times was the result of several factors – the main point being how to effectively notify parents.
“Not many people are going to look at the weather when it’s 60 degrees outside and wonder if school has been delayed,” said Adams. “There was also no guarantee that (the roadway) would be cleared within an hour, two hours, or even all day.”
With the knowledge that students are already facing the possibility of eight make-up days, Adams decided parents and bus drivers would have to do their best to get children to school. Some students were up to an hour late for class. Adams said all tardies that day were excused.
“It was a huge inconvenience, but we went ahead knowing it was not a safety hazard to use the back routes,” said Adams. He added that he was proud of the way drivers handled the situation. Students were picked up and dropped off according to need and not routes.
Along a one-lane section of Plum Ridge Road, motorists could be seen pulling two wheels off the roadway in order to make room for a parade of yellow buses. One bus driver said that when two buses met along the detour, mere inches passed between them.
Lewis said he estimated that 90 percent of the traffic being detoured was individuals headed to one of the district’s four schools. As the line of cars continued to grow through the morning, Lewis said he could no longer provide directions and began sending motorists to the school board office for maps. By 8 a.m., Lewis said school district Director of Operations Brett Beaverson was standing in the road with him handing out printed detours.
Taylorsville-Spencer County Fire Chief Nathan Nation said when firefighters first responded to the overturned tractor trailer around 11 p.m. last Wednesday there was a strong odor of propane. After identifying the scene as one involving hazardous materials, Nation alerted officials from Kentucky Emergency Management and the Kentucky State Fire Marshall’s office – who also responded to the scene.
As a precaution, Nation said firefighters went door-to-door in nearby Green Acre’s subdivision and recommended residents to evacuate. Most, however, remained in their homes, said Nation.
Sherley Ferguson said she and her husband decided to not heed the evacuation warnings, “mainly because they wanted us to walk past the accident to the fire station. I can’t walk that far. A lot of us back here are elderly.”
Four hours later, it was determined that propane was not leaking and all residents who did evacuate were allowed to return home.
Ferguson said she spent the several hours watching wrecker crews slowly move the truck to an upright position.
Not only were wrecker crews dealing with a potentially dangerous situation, said Nation, they were also battling a lack of space as they tried to work between the propane truck and a guard rail.
Lewis said the process was near agony to watch. The wrecker driver would lift the propane truck slightly and then hop back in the cab to reposition the lift angle, then go back and raise the truck a few more inches. Over and over this happened until finally the tractor trailer was back on its wheels.
Meanwhile, two similar propane trucks arrived to offload the nearly 9,000 gallons of cargo still in the overturned truck.
“The problem is that roadway is so narrow,” said Lewis. “We need to get the state moving on that road plan.”
The one-mile section of KY 44/Mt. Washington Road from Oak Tree Way to KY 1633/Elk Creek Road has been designated as a reconstruction project on the Kentucky Department of Transportation Cabinet’s six year road plan. The widening project has been estimated to cost $7.3 million and scheduled to begin sometime in 2010.
“That is the top priority in this district,” said Rep. Brad Montell Monday afternoon. “It is something we absolutely need to do.”
Montell said that design money has been appropriated for the realignment project and that residents should anticipate a public meeting this spring where they can provide input. The next phase would be acquiring land, then in 2010, Montell said, “we’ll start moving dirt.”
In addition to the previously mentioned agencies, Spencer County Sheriff’s Office, Kentucky State Police, State Department of Transportation, and Spencer County EMS also responded to the scene last Wednesday..