Fears of explosion close road

A truck spills 70 gas canisters after overturning on CR 491.

Published February 9, 2007

LECANTO - A single-vehicle accident on County Road 491 Thursday morning closed a portion of the highway for hours and sent fire officials scrambling to secure a scene littered with dozens of canisters of potentially dangerous gases.

The accident happened just before 11 a.m. on the stretch of CR 491 between Grover Cleveland Boulevard and Cardinal Street.

Authorities say a Freightliner truck bearing an Airgas logo heading south failed to negotiate a curve on CR 491. The truck, loaded with approximately 70 gas cylinders used in welding, crossed into the northbound lane, hit the eastern shoulder, hit a sign and rolled over on CR 491 just south of Noble Street.

Sheriff and fire officials immediately blocked the road and backed everyone away once they realized that some of the cylinders could be leaking. Those tanks contained acetylene, oxygen, argon and carbon dioxide.

Acetylene is flammable, and oxygen combined with that gas could have been an explosive mixture. But only one cylinder of oxygen was leaking, according to Patty Jefferson, assistant fire chief and public information officer for the county's fire rescue operation.

No evacuations were needed, she said.

The truck driver, Dennis Lauver, 49, of Homosassa Springs, suffered minor injuries in the wreck and was taken to Seven Rivers Community Medical Center. Charges are pending, according to Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Larry Coggins.

Teams of firefighters with hazardous materials training worked in shifts using special equipment to check the levels of gases in the air around the canisters. Wearing bunker gear, the firefighters secured the tanks to make way for a tow truck to remove the damaged truck.

The operation took hours, causing school officials to reroute many of the afternoon bus runs. Officials announced to drivers that the road was reopened after 4 p.m.

A man who answered the phone at the Inverness Airgas office Thursday afternoon said there was no comment on the accident and referred all questions to a corporate spokesman who did not return a reporter's phone call.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at 564-3621 or behrendt@sptimes.com.