Two people were killed Saturday in a fiery crash involving a fuel tanker that shut down I-85 for hours in Gwinnett County.
Large flames and thick black smoke could be seen billowing hundreds of feet above the interstate after a tanker carrying 8,500 gallons of fuel crashed near the Jimmy Carter Boulevard exit just before 8 a.m., authorities said.
As police approached the scene of the crash, officers witnessed a large explosion. The fuel from the tanker then entered a nearby storm drain, prompting the fire to spread to the southbound lanes of the interstate.
The tanker was transporting 7,500 gallons of gasoline and another 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel when it overturned and exploded, said Gwinnett fire spokesman Lt. Justin Wilson.
I-85 was shut down in both directions, and Georgia Department of Transportation traffic cameras appeared to show drivers standing on the side of the interstate as firefighters worked to control the massive blaze. As a precaution, people were evacuated from their cars and nearby businesses on the access roads, authorities said.
Once the fire was out about 10 a.m., the bodies of the two people killed were recovered from the burned-out shells of their vehicles, Wilson said. Gwinnett police identified the victims as Emerald Lynn, 31, of Norcross and Yonas Worku, 44, of Snellville.
According to law enforcement officials’ preliminary investigation into the deadly crash, Lynn was driving a Volkswagen Passat and was stopped in the second from the right lane after having just been involved in a separate traffic accident. Worku was driving a Freightliner truck and when approaching the rear of Lynn’s stopped vehicle was unable to stop or avoid a collision.
After the initial collision, according to the report, both vehicles separated from each other before the tanker truck spun sideways across four lanes of traffic, causing it to flip multiple times. Both vehicles came to rest adjacent to one another, and both were quickly engulfed in flames. Lynn and Worku died from injuries sustained during the incident.
The interstate’s southbound lanes reopened shortly after the fire was snuffed out, but it took nearly eight hours from the time of the crash to get northbound traffic moving again, authorities said. Two lanes reopened just before 3:20 p.m.
Several drivers in the northbound lanes abandoned their vehicles on the interstate after sitting completely still for more than four hours.
The reason for the delay was that the fire damaged the asphalt across all five northbound lanes, and crews had to be brought in to make emergency repairs, GDOT spokesman Scott Higley said.
“The impacted section of I-85 is approximately 100 feet by 70 feet and all five lanes of the highway are affected,” he said Saturday afternoon.
Crews worked to repair and reopen one late at a time, completing their work just before 6 p.m.
Trent Perry was among the motorists at the scene of the fatal wreck and fire when I-85 was brought to a standstill. Here's a video clip he recorded and provided to the AJC:
Here’s another clip from Perry:
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