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ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL BUTANE TANKER OVERTURNS, CLOSES I-5.

Byline: Amy Raisin Staff Writer

GORMAN - A truck driver hauling more than 8,000 pounds of liquid butane fell asleep at the wheel on the Golden State Freeway early Wednesday morning and the vehicle crashed through a power transformer, clogging traffic into the evening.

Because of the cargo's high flammability, hazardous-materials specialists were called to monitor for leaks immediately after the 4 a.m. crash, which occurred in southbound lanes just south of state Highway 138.

Though only a small amount of butane leaked from the pressurized tank, fluids from the truck's engine escaped when the big rig came to rest upside down, tangled up with fallen live wires and a 70-foot-high transformer.

``I was coming down and just nodded off,'' said Patrick Coffee, 37, who was traveling from Porterville to San Pedro. ``I hit the curb and that's when I woke up. The trailer clipped the tower and the next thing I know, oil from the transmission is spilling on me.''

The California Highway Patrol closed all lanes from 4 to 6:30 a.m. from Lake Hughes Road to the state highway. While northbound lanes and two southbound lanes were reopened by 7:30 a.m., all lanes in both directions were closed again in the afternoon while the butane was pumped into a second tanker.

As workers prepared the overturned rig to be towed from the dirt ravine, some members of the Los Angeles County Fire Department discussed the driver's good fortune in surviving the crash without injuries.

``He's very lucky. Just the friction of metal sliding against metal alone could have easily sparked the live wires,'' said Capt. Gabriel Etcheverry of Fire Station 76 in Valencia. ``The biggest problem here has been traffic.''

Coffee, who owns the truck, said he was hauling the butane for Hurt's Transportation, a Central California trucking company.

``I had plenty of rest. It just happened,'' Coffee said. ``I kicked the window to get out. After it happened, yeah, it was scary, seeing all the damage it did. I thank God for protecting me.''

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, map

Photo:

(1 -- color) A Southern California Edison lineman looks over a big rig tangled in downed power lines along the Golden State Freeway.

(2 -- color) Lineman Paul Kelly works to free a big rig from a tangled power line after the driver fell asleep and crashed on I-5.

Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer

Map:

(5) Freeway closed in both directions
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Article Details
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 26, 2002
Words:406
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