Chief: Driver alive after tanker rollover, fire thanks to '3 lifesavers'

Daylight reveals the charred remains of a tanker fire early Monday, Nov. 21, on I-196.

CASCO TOWNSHIP, MICH. - A semi-truck driver is injured after a rollover crash that ended with a tanker fire on an off-ramp of I-196.

It happened around 3:15 a.m. Monday, Nov. 21, near the 109th Avenue interchange. That's just north of South Haven.

Investigators say the driver, now identified as 45-year-old Michael Bennett of Benton Harbor, was trying to exit the highway when it rolled over. It was originally reported that the driver was thrown from the vehicle, but now there's some confusion about whether he was thrown or if he simply got out of the truck.

Tom Renner from South Haven Area Emergency Services says other truckers helped pull the injured driver away from the wreckage. He was taken to South Haven Community Hospital.

Daylight on Monday morning revealed the charred remains near the exit ramp, where just hours earlier an interstate inferno lit up the dark sky. 

"Well over 1,000 degrees," says Ron Wise, executive director of South Haven Area Emergency Services. "All the aluminum on the tanker itself was consumed in the fire.  

"There were a couple street signs that were basically incinerated."

Wise says the tanker was carrying 8,500 gallons of gasoline. He says the driver was pulled to safety by fellow truckers just moments before the area went up in flames. 

"The bystanders found him outside his vehicle, we're not sure if he was thrown or if he climbed out or fell out of his truck, and then they dragged him about 150 feet away," Wise said. "When they looked back where he was at was engulfed in flames, so truly they were three life savers."

Investigators are now looking into why the truck rolled over while exiting the interstate from the northbound lanes. 

"His tractor stayed upright and the trailer is what flipped over on its side," Wise said.

Meanwhile, state officials are responding to potential environmental concerns.

"(We're) making sure the proper clean up happens so that it doesn't get into our groundwater and into drinking water supplies as well as protect the wildlife," says Gregg Brettmann with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

"This situation could have been a lot worse, this was probably one of the best exits, if it's going to happen, have it happen there," Wise said. "It was right in a sandy area with no runoff to any tributaries or lakes."

The chief says part of the road may also be damaged by the monster of a fire, which firefighters eventually let burn itself out once they knew everyone was safe. 

The truck driver was taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries. 

While firefighters were on scene, NB I-196 was shut down at one point. It has since re-opened, the exit ramp reopened to traffic shortly before 8 p.m.

There is no word yet on what caused the crash, however, speed is believed to be a factor.

(© 2016 WZZM)


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