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Tanker rollover caused evacuations, traffic jams

It took six hours to re-right a tanker carrying 4,500 gallons of liquid oxygen that rolled over in front of Applebee's restaurant Tuesday, shutting down the Grants Pass Parkway, forcing the evacuation of a dozen or more businesses and disrupting the afternoon commute.

The truck tipped over onto its side at 3:37 p.m. while turning left from the Parkway onto Agness Avenue.

In the next 30 minutes, police evacuated a large swath of businesses and shut down the Parkway, several side streets and the city's south Interstate 5 interchange.

The evacuation and road closures lasted until 10:30 p.m.

Joe Hyatt, fire marshal for Grants Pass Fire and Rescue, said leakage from the tank's pressure relief valve was minimal, but liquid oxygen's potential to accelerate fire was a huge risk.

"We got very lucky with the scenario," Hyatt said. "It had a huge potential."

A rupture of the tank, while unlikely, could have triggered a destructive fireball, Hyatt said.

The truck came to rest about 20 feet from Applebee's.

Liquid oxygen, highly compressed and cold, quickly evaporates when leaked out of the container, Hyatt said. But contact with asphalt could have caused combustion.

"Luckily it leaked into the landscaping," he said.

The driver for Premiere Oxygen was Matthew Dunn, 35, according to Lt. Dennis Ward of the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety. Ward added that no charges have been filed in connection with the accident.

A Hazmat team from Medford arrived, and found that the liquid oxygen was no longer leaking. About 9 p.m. the truck was pulled upright, then the tank was separated from the truck.

Caveman Towing took the tank to the Premiere Oxygen facility at 2185 N.E. Spalding Ave., and the remaining liquid oxygen was put in other containers, Hyatt said.

Liquid oxygen, used in numerous medical and industrial applications, can cause serious burns, and is so corrosive that it can cause many materials used in construction to become brittle enough to shatter — thus the precautions taken Tuesday, said Lang Johnson, the city's deputy fire chief.

Streets were snarled as cars were flagged out of parking lots at Big Lots, Big 5, The Key Man, Grocery Outlet, Dollar Tree, Dutch Bros., Mattress Express, Applebees's, Subway, Shari's, AT&T, Sprint, H&R Block, Elmer's and just about every business near the freeway except Walmart and Winco.

Streets were shut down along Agness from F Street to Fairview Avenue, and west on the Parkway to Terry Lane.

The north end of Grants Pass became clogged with traffic through the evening. At one point, traffic on Interstate 5 between Grants Pass and Rogue River was described by state troopers as at a standstill.

Dave Thomason, owner of Elmer's restaurant at the corner of Agness Avenue and the Parkway, said that his restaurant and other businesses took a big hit, shutting down for a whole evening. He said 20 to 30 customers were in Elmer's when the crash occurred.

"We were able to get back in there late last night to close things up, but it was a total bust of a day," Thomason said, adding, "We will be seeking some sort of repayment for what we lost in sales for the day."

He added that a Carl's Jr. he owns in Roseburg lost business for a day from a truck accident, and the insurance company paid the loss.

— Reach reporter Jeff Duewel at 541-474-3720 or jduewel@thedailycourier.com

The Grants Pass Parkway was closed Tuesday after a tanker carrying liquid oxygen overturned at Agness Avenue. Photo courtesy of Oregon Department of Transportation