UPDATE (7:38 p.m. Aug. 25, 2022) – The West Virginia Department of Transportation says all lanes of the West Virginia Turnpike have reopened after being shut down for nearly 19 hours after a tractor-trailer crash caused a chemical spill near Pax overnight.
PAX, WV (WOWK) – A man is facing DUI charges after a tractor-trailer crash on the West Virginia Turnpike closed I-77 and caused a chemical spill.
Authorities say the crash happened during the hour between 11:30 p.m. last night, Wednesday, Aug. 24 and 12:30 a.m. this morning, Thursday, Aug. 25 near the 62.5 mile-marker of I-77 over the Skitter Creek Bridge. During the crash, the tractor-trailer flipped over the median barrier wall, blocking all northbound and southbound lanes, and causing damage to the median barrier.
According to Jeff Miller, executive director of the West Virginia Parkways Authority, the tractor-trailer also caught fire during the crash, and crews were able to extinguish the flames.
The sheriff’s office says the closure is expected to run through this evening and normal traffic flow should be expected late this evening into tomorrow morning.
According to a criminal complaint from the Fayette County Magistrate Court, when authorities responded to the scene of the crash, they were able to speak with the driver, identified as Dennis Eugene West of Moncks Corner, South Carolina.
Authorities say while speaking with West they smelled an “odor of an alcoholic beverage on the driver’s breath.” West allegedly failed his field sobriety tests according to the complaint.
West was arrested on suspicion of DUI and taken to the West Virginia State Police Turnpike Office in Beckley. According to the complaint, West agreed to a ECIR-II breath test, which returned a result of .128.
Because of the extended closure, Miller has activated the West Virginia Turnpike Emergency Detour A. West Virginia Governor Jim Justice says this means drivers should take I-79 and Route 19 to detour around the closed area. Traffic is also being diverted off the Turnpike at Chelyan and rerouted through Kanawha and Fayette County by Route 60 and 61, according to the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office.
The West Virginia Department of Transportation says those traveling northbound will detour at the North Beckley Exit 48 onto US 19 and go to Summersville to I-79 Exit 57 and then head south to Charleston. Those going southbound will follow I-79 north from Charleston to Exit 57 and then take US 19 to North Beckley Exit 48.
The crash also caused a chemical spill from the load the tractor-trailer was carrying. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has identified the chemical as Alkyl Dimethylamine, which is primarily used as a cleaning agent. According to the commission, the tractor-trailer had at least 12 totes of the solution, which held 275 gallons each. Officials say an environmental contractor will have to finish inspecting and remediating the site before they can determine the total amount of material being hauled and how much was spilled at the scene.
Commissioners say the solution is “very odorous” and described the smell as a “fish-like odor.” The commissioners also said the spill will have an impact to the aquatic life and water in the Paint Creek area. The WVDEP says fish kill believed to be connected to the spill has been observed in the area.
According to the Kanawha County Commission, those who live in the area are advised as a precaution to avoid contact with Paint Creek water until the materials are diluted.
The crash has also caused issues with flooding cleanup, according to the West Virginia National Guard. WVNG leaders say due to the traffic on Rt. 60 caused by this crash, they will not be able to reach some parts of Fayette County affected by flooding until tomorrow, Friday, Aug. 26.
Guard members were originally scheduled to assist with cleanup in the Gauley Bridge area on Thursday.
Miller said this morning during the governor’s semi-daily COVID-19 briefing crews were awaiting an environmental contractor because authorities implemented hazmat and emergency response. The City of Charleston’s Hazardous Material Team has also been called to the scene to assist with removal and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is also handling remediation.
The West Virginia State Police, the Department of Environmental Protection Emergency response team, the Pax Fire Department and West Virginia Parkways Authority are all on scene, according to the governor.