Three people died Monday when a tanker truck carrying liquid nitrogen collided with a passenger vehicle on the Interstate 77 bridge entering West Virginia, resulting in a fiery explosion.
Wood County Coroner Mike St. Clair confirmed three people had been killed, although he could not say whether they were male or female. The bodies were sent to the West Virginia state medical examiner's office for identification.
Wood County Sheriff Jeff Sandy said the victims were in the passenger vehicle. The driver of the tanker, whose name was not available late Monday, was not injured, he said.
ROBB DeCAMP Special to the Times
Three people were believed dead after a tanker carrying liquid nitrogen and passenger vehicle collided on the Interstate 77 bridge between Marietta and Williamstown Monday evening.
Photo submitted by Alan Jeffers
A fireball rises from the crash scene in the I-77 bridge at dusk.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Photo submitted by Donald Riddle
Traffic on I-77 came to a halt after Monday night’s crash.
Initially it was believed that two people had been killed. Because of the fire and other conditions, investigators were not able to begin processing the scene until around 10:15 p.m. At that point, Sandy said, even a license plate number could not be discerned on the smaller vehicle.
The accident was reported at 8:12 p.m., according to a dispatcher with the Wood County 911 center. Except for a few vehicles let through in the northbound lane, all four lanes of the bridge, which spans the Ohio River just outside Marietta and Williamstown, remained closed as of 11 p.m.
The Wood County Crash Team - made up of officers from the Wood County Sheriff's Department and Parkersburg and Vienna police - is investigating the crash.
Spencer, W.Va., resident James Caldwell, 37, was at the Hampton Inn in Marietta when the crash occurred.
"I just walked out in the parking lot and heard the kaboom," Caldwell said. "It sounded like a cannon went off."
Caldwell was one of a couple dozen people behind the Hampton Inn and neighboring Microtel trying to catch a glimpse of what was happening on the bridge. Trees made it difficult to see many details from the parking lot, but flames and flashing lights from emergency vehicles were visible.
A group of curious spectators had also gathered at Pioneer Family Golf
Marian Rutherford, an employee there, heard multiple blasts and saw the resulting flames.
"Big booms - two of them and then a couple smaller ones," she said. "And then we could hear crackling."
Marietta College student Justin Gutberlet was leaving the school when he saw multiple emergency vehicles heading for the bridge. He called his parents to see what was going on.
"(They) could see the flames clear from Reno at the top of Sand Hill," Gutberlet said.
He and several other people were watching the scene from the patio at Pioneer Family Golf.
"(The fire) was probably three times the size it is now, and (there was) more black smoke," he said.
On the West Virginia side, the Williamstown, Vienna, Waverly and Deerwalk volunteer fire departments responded to the scene. In Ohio, the Marietta police, Ohio Highway Patrol, Washington County Sheriff's Office, Marietta Fire Department and Reno Volunteer Fire Department responded.
The Ohio Department of Transportation was rerouting southbound vehicles to exit 6 on Interstate 77, directing them to Ohio 821 south to Ohio 60, then to Ohio 7 south to U.S. 50 and east into West Virginia before getting back on I-77.
Paul LaPann contributed.