A tractor-trailer crash and chemical spill closed the Downtown Connector on Monday morning. JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

Both drivers face charges in Downtown Connector crash, chemical spill

The truck driver whose big-rig overturned and spilled hazardous material that closed the Downtown Connector for hours early Monday should have been driving on I-285 instead through the core of the city, a state official said.

Capt. Mark Wesley, the head of the state Department of Public Safety Motor Carrier Compliance division, said the trucker was in violation of state law when his vehicle overturned in a crash with a SUV.

The drivers of the tractor-trailer and the SUV both face charges in connection with the incident, which occurred just before 2 a.m. on the north side of the interstate, according to Atlanta police. 

The SUV driver’s license was expired. 

Tractor-trailers that don’t have business within the city aren’t supposed to be inside I-285. State law allows some business exceptions for heavy trucks inside the Perimeter.

According to state law, trucks are only allowed to use the Downtown Connector for pickup or delivery to or from a shipper based inside I-285; going to or from the carrier’s terminal inside the Perimeter; going to or from a repair facility; or if a driver is going to or from a residence inside the Perimeter.

Wesley said the driver was ticketed by Atlanta police. He did not have the driver’s planned destination.

The issue of drivers going into the city to get around bottlenecks on I-285 is fairly common, though Wesley said he had no data to show whether the problem has worsened since the collapse of the I-85 bridge.

“Atlanta being such a high traffic area, we do have truckers that try to slip through,” Wesley said.

According to an Atlanta police incident report, truck driver Matthew Bowden said he was driving a Freightliner Corporation truck when he saw the stopped SUV. When he tried to go around the vehicle, the SUV crossed his path, he told police.

The driver of the SUV, identified as Sol Mitchell Epstein, gave a slightly different version. He said he came to a complete stop to change lanes and felt the truck hit his vehicle.

The tractor-trailer, which was hauling up to 150 gallons of benzoyl chloride and 50 gallons of diesel fuel, overturned. 

RELATED: Chemical in Downtown Connector crash can burn eyes, skin

Atlanta police closed the northbound and southbound lanes of the Downtown Connector, and a hazardous materials crew responded to the scene. The traffic mess happened as metro Atlanta continues to adjust to a new normal after the March 30 I-85 fire and bridge collapse.

A crash and chemical spill temporarily shut down both directions of the Downtown Connector at 10th Street. JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

Northbound traffic was forced off the interstate at Spring Street, and southbound drivers were forced off at 17th Street. Delays on side streets and I-285, a popular alternate since the I-85 fire and bridge collapse, built quickly.

Original warnings from authorities were grim. Officials predicted the connector — a major artery that cuts through the heart of Atlanta — would be closed for at least six hours. Georgia State University delayed the start of classes on its downtown campus until 10 a.m.

However, southbound lanes reopened about 6:30 a.m. About an hour later, officials towed the tractor-trailer to a right emergency lane, reopening northbound lanes, too.

Southbound lanes on the Downtown Connector reopened about 6:30 a.m. Monday. JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

Both drivers in the crash were taken to Grady Memorial Hospital. Their conditions were not immediately known. Authorities said they sustained cuts, and Epstein complained of neck and back pains.

Epstein was not on the accident scene when authorities arrived, according to the police report. Officers later found him walking southbound on the interstate in northbound lanes. He had blood on his forehead “was not giving clear answers and sounded disoriented,” according to the report.

Epstein was charged with improperly stopping in the roadway, having an expired license, having a suspended license and improperly changing lanes.

Bowden received a citation on a charge of operating a truck on a prohibited roadway, officials said.

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