JACKSON COUNTY, Ind. – Crews with the Indiana Department of Transportation are getting ready to repair I-65 in Jackson County Thursday following a Wednesday morning crash and chemical fire that closed the interstate for more than 15 hours.
INDOT said the work will begin with the left lane. A construction contractor will pave over the damaged road with hot-mix asphalt. Once work on the left lane is finished, work will start on the right lane. Work is expected to last through the late afternoon hours.
The crash involved three semi trucks on I-65 southbound near mile marker 43 and eventually resulted in the closure of both southbound and northbound lanes. Police also called for an evacuation after chemicals that spilled onto the road became volatile.
State police said a 2017 Freightliner pulling a box trailer driven by Uche J. Okpeh, age 30, Jacksonville, Florida, was traveling in the right lane of I-65, approaching traffic that had stopped for an earlier crash at the 43 mile marker. Okpeh’s vehicle struck the rear of a 2012 Freightliner pulling a box trailer driven by Vitali Kriuchkov, age 34, Orlando, Florida, that was stopped in the right lane. Kriuchkov’s vehicle then crashed into the rear of another truck driven by Bobby L. Brand, age 46, Gadsen, Alabama.
A passenger inside Okpeh’s truck was injured in the crash and was taken to an area hospital. His injuries aren’t believed to be life-threatening.
Okpeh’s vehicle was hauling hazardous chemicals, including a non-flammable gas, a corrosive liquid (weed killer), a caustic acid, an oxidizing solid (dantobrom), and a corrosive liquid (glutaradehyde). Some of the containers inside Okpeh’s tank ruptured after the collision and then spilled onto the road. Hazardous materials crews were called to the scene for cleanup.
State police briefly reopened the left lane around 10:30 a.m. and said the right lane was expected to reopen Wednesday afternoon. However, just before 11 a.m., ISP said both southbound lanes were closed again due to “complications from the cleanup.” Crews removing containers from Okpeh’s truck noticed smoke and a “volatile reaction” taking place inside the trailer, leading to the closure of the northbound lanes and the evacuation.
Sgt. Stephen Wheeles with Indiana State Police said crews responding to the cleanup faced an “explosion risk.” The trailer caught fire around 12 p.m. and was fully engulfed. It continued burning for about four hours. Once the fire was out, the northbound lanes reopened. Southbound remained closed until about 9 p.m.
The fire destroyed a vehicle from Indiana Spill Response and damaged the asphalt. Crews made temporary repairs to the road, allowing traffic to move through again.