In Colorado, vehicles carrying hazardous materials are required to remain on designated routes approved for hazardous material transportation by the state.
But on Wednesday, a truck driver, working for Mississippi-based Miller Transporters Inc., veered off the state’s approved routes onto Highway 550, traveling north from Durango.
Miller Transporters did not return calls seeking comment Friday.
Colorado State Patrol Trooper Jeff Chmielewski identified the truck driver as 45-year-old Mac Rodgers, of Pineville, Louisiana.
Rogers told authorities he was traveling to Grand Junction from the southeastern United States and wanted to avoid the inclement weather along Interstate 70.
In doing so, Rogers chose the route on Highway 550, which from Durango to Ouray requires motorists to traverse a windy, two-lane narrow road over three mountain passes.
Asked if Rogers was aware of the route’s terrain before he chose to drive it, Chmielewski said, “My guess is he did not.”
Around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Rogers was driving too fast and failed to navigate a turn right before the final descent into Silverton.
The semitrailer crossed into oncoming traffic in the southbound lane, then went up a small embankment, overturning on its right side. The tank the truck was carrying separated and continued to roll, coming to a rest on its left side.
The tank – carrying a highly flammable liquid that is used in plastics, known as “methyl methacrylate monomer” – immediately began to leak onto the road.
As a result of the crash, Highway 550, from the bottom of Coal Bank Pass to Silverton, was closed. It took nearly 37 hours for crews to clean up the crash site, and the highway was reopened Friday morning.
Rogers was taken to Montrose Memorial Hospital but did not suffer significant injuries, Chmielewski said. Calls to the hospital Friday were not returned.
As of Friday, authorities were uncertain how much hazardous material was spilled. The Environmental Protection Agency has a long list of health and safety issues with methyl methacrylate monomer.
Chmielewski said a contracted environmental company that specializes in hazardous mitigation was able to clean up most of the site. It is possible the spill will require future cleanup work on contaminated soils, he said.
An “off-loader” truck had to be called from Salt Lake City, a 400-mile journey one-way, to collect and transport the hazardous waste. The truck and trailer were then uprighted and towed, Chmielewski said.
Rogers was cited with unauthorized deviation from a designated route while transporting hazardous materials, failure to comply with Department of Public Safety rules and regulations and careless driving.
All three charges are misdemeanors. Chmielewski said drugs and alcohol are not considered factors in the crash.
Chmielewski said Miller Transporters will also be on the hook for the crash. The company is responsible for the actions of its drivers, which means it must answer for violations of federal transportation safety laws, he said.
There are punishments involved in that process, he said, and it’s likely the company will have to pay for the cost of the cleanup.