Oct 31, 2002

Propane Truck Explosion Closes Main Tampa Artery

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - A section of a major commuter highway in northwest Tampa was shut down and some area homes evacuated Thursday morning after a propane tanker truck crashed and burned, authorities said. The driver of the truck and another motorist died in the 7:30 a.m. wreck on the Veteran's Expressway, a route to and from central Tampa. Northbound lanes were reopened at about 3 p.m. in time for the evening commute, but a two-mile southbound section of the expressway was expected to remain closed into the evening, said Ray Yearly, spokesman for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue. Firefighters were allowing some of the propane to burn off but hoped to transfer most of it onto another truck, Yearly said. About 15 homes near the highway exit were evacuated because of the possibility of explosion. "Until we are done, we're going to err on the side of caution," Yearly said. Investigators say the driver of the loaded propane truck was traveling north when he lost control, crossed over the median and hit an oncoming pickup truck. The propane truck then hit a retaining wall and burst into flames. Killed were the driver of the Bay Cities Gas truck, 63-year-old Ronald Ugh from Tampa; and Nancy Smolsky, 44, of New Port Richey, the driver of the pickup truck. Authorities were still trying to determine why Ugh lost control of the truck. AP-ES-10-31-02 1834EST

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