Businesses in Atwater, California are still recovering from a fiery fatal truck crash in the area that closed a crucial Highway 99 exit. Miraculously only one person, the truck driver, was killed in the Atwater truck crash, and no other injuries were sustained. It was one of three fiery truck crashes in the state in recent days, two of which were fatal.
Hundreds Evacuated, One Killed When Tanker Explodes in Atwater Truck Crash
May 23, 2017
Kamkyo Gnotsavath, a semi-truck driver for Williams Tank Lines, was driving into Atwater from Stockton, California to make a delivery to an ARCO am/pm on the morning of Tuesday, May 23, 2017. As Gnotsavath exited Highway 99 by Applegate Road, California Highway Patrol (CHP) officials believe he failed to sufficiently slow his vehicle and hit a concrete divider. The impact from the Atwater truck crash was enough to cause the tanker to tip over, and begin spilling out its approximately 8,600 gallons of fuel, which subsequently caught fire.
Massive flames raced down the roadway as the fuel spread, while huge clouds of dark black smoke rose into the sky.
Bystanders Ran as Flames Rolled By Near Highway 99
Workers inside surrounding restaurants say they heard multiple explosions before they saw waves of fire rolling through the streets. Fearing for their safety, employees at the nearby Panda Express ran from the fast-food restaurant, recording footage of the Atwater truck crash as they fled.
David Velasco, a Panda Express employee, was working in the restaurant’s kitchen when he heard three initial explosions from the tanker followed by two more, which he believed meant his car had caught fire.
Velasco saw flames outside the kitchen window and was about to try to save his vehicle when he decided against it.
“I’m thanking God right now, he made me stop,” Velasco said in an interview with ABC30. “Just leave it’s a car, it’s materialistic.”
In total, approximately 200 people were evacuated after the Atwater truck crash. Gnotsavath was killed in the accident.
Highway Cleanup Ongoing After California Truck Accident
Following the Atwater truck crash, Cal Fire was concerned that spilled fuel from the truck would contaminate the Atwater drinking water through the drain system. Public works and city crews were dispatched to investigate whether the fuel made its way into the drain system and, if it did, what methods would be used to decontaminate the city’s water.
Some businesses sustained fire and smoke damage, and officials were still checking for gas leaks or other damage on Wednesday, May 24. Businesses such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Panda Express were all closed the day after the Atwater truck accident, and some business owners said it might be a month before they reopened.
Meanwhile, the closure of the Highway 99 exit has also affected area businesses. Kamal Dhaliwal owns the ARCO gas station on Bell Drive and said that her sales were down about 50 percent following the fiery crash and the exit closure.
“As soon as [the exit] opens I’ll be just fine,” Dhaliwal said in an interview with the Fresno Bee. “I don’t think people understand how much we rely on the freeway. The reason why I built this store here is because of the prime location.”
Semi-Truck Carrying Liquid Cleaning Solution Crashes Near Chowchilla
May 24, 2017
Just one day after the Atwater truck crash, a semi-truck hauling liquid cleaning solution crashed outside of Chowchilla at around 12:30 p.m. exploding into flames. Fortunately, no one was injured in the crash.
CHP officials say the big rig was traveling west from Highway 99 to Highway 152 when it hit a guardrail and jack-knifed. The fire quickly spread from the truck to a nearby grassy area. A Madera County hazardous materials team responded to the accident but held back from the accident site until they could determine what chemical the truck was carrying. For that reason, the grass fire burned into the evening.
Emergency personnel evacuated some of the nearby residents and instructed other residents in a half-mile perimeter to stay in their homes. Officials also asked the 470 students and the faculty at Fairmead Elementary School, located a mile from the crash site, to stay inside the school from 1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.
Cleanup crews were still at work on the Atwater truck crash scene when they were called to assist with the truck crash in Chowchilla. The two truck crashes in two days served as a stark reminder of Highway 99’s status as the most dangerous highway in the country.
Truck Crash in Chino Results in At Least One Fatality
May 27, 2017
The weekend after the Atwater truck crash, a third fiery crash in California also resulted in a fatality. The accident took place at approximately 2:00 a.m. on the eastbound side of the 60 Freeway in Chino.
According to initial reports from the San Bernardino County Coroner’s Office, at least one person was killed in the truck crash. The semi-truck involved veered from the No. 2 lane toward the shoulder, and hit several guardrail posts before crashing into the cement wall of the Mountain Avenue bridge. The additional vehicle involved in the accident went off the freeway at the bottom of the off-ramp, though officials did not say how that vehicle was involved in the crash.
The semi-truck driver, who was ejected from the truck during the crash, was the sole fatality.