(The Center Square) – A tanker truck crash that killed five people just outside of the village of Teutopolis may have been caused by a car that attempted to pass the truck.
The truck carrying the commonly used toxic farm input–anhydrous ammonia–overturned just before 9 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 29, on US Highway 40 just outside of Teutopolis. The village of 1,600 people is located 110 miles northeast of St. Louis, Missouri.
Five people were killed by the toxic fumes that were released, including resident Kenneth Bryan, 34, his daughter Rosie, 7, and his son Walker, 10. Bryan and his children were in the yard where Bryan lived at the home of Jordan and Megan Elmore when the Bryans were overcome by chemical fumes. The Elmores pets and livestock were also killed by the fumes, according to a Facebook post by Amber Dawn – one of several people who set up GoFundMe pages for the victims.
The two other victims were identified as Danny J. Smith, 67, from New Haven, Missouri, and Vasile Cricovan, 3,1 from Twinsburg, Ohio.
Five motorists were medically evacuated to area hospitals. Several other victims were treated locally at HSHS St. Anthony Memorial Hospital in Effingham.
According to the Associated Press, the accident appears to be the result of an attempt by one vehicle to pass the tanker. The pass attempt caused the tanker driver to move to the right, where he ran off the road, rolled over, and jackknifed the tanker. In the process, the cargo tank hit a trailer hitch on a utility vehicle that was parked by the highway. The impact created a hole that released the toxic fumes. About 500 people were evacuated from their homes.
After promoting the public for assistance in finding the suspect vehicle, Illinois State Police announced they identified the vehicle. It’s unclear if there will be charges.
Teutopolis village president Dave Repking and his family, who live about a mile from the accident scene, had to leave their homes for 48 hours.
“As we left our house Friday evening, we could smell the anhydrous just as soon as we stepped outside. We kept the garage door closed. We had the car windows sealed up and you could still smell it,” Repking said.
Repking credits the Teutopolis Volunteer Fire Department and responders from Effingham for getting to the accident scene within minutes.
“They were over there in a minute’s notice. It was amazing,” Repking said. “They’re a very well-trained unit.”
One hundred first responders from fire departments, hazmat units, and EMT stations came from all over the area, including from Champaign, Danville, Charleston, Mattoon, Centralia, St. Elmo, Altamont and Dieterich, Repking said.
“The MABAS is a collaborative unit of fire departments that helps each other out in critical situations like this. The cooperation is unbelievable,” Repking said.
Teutopolis High School became the command center for the hazmat effort to contain the chemical spill. Teutopolis residents donated food and supplies, including food for an Octoberfest celebration that was canceled because of the accident.