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Investigation shows speed caused fatal tanker crash

The Indiana State Police concluded that speed was the contributing factor in a tractor-trailer crash last month at the Eckerty ‘Y’ that killed a Paoli man.
On March 10, William (Billy) Mark Woolston, 24, was hauling about 9,000 gallons of liquid propane in a tractor-tanker combination eastbound on S.R. 64 just past the intersection with S.R. 145 when he lost control of the rig, causing it to jackknife and eventually strike a guardrail on the north side of the highway. The tanker broke through the guardrail, struck a tree and flipped over before coming to rest across both lanes of the road.
Propane began to escape from the tanker and ignited, causing a large explosion that damaged a home on the north side of the highway and burned several acres on its south side. Woolston was severely burned in the explosion and died the next day at the University of Louisville Hospital.
Indiana State Police Information Officer Todd Ringle said Woolston was not exceeding the speed limit but may have been traveling too fast to handle a tanker combination with such a large quantity of liquid as he negotiated the curve at the Eckerty ‘Y.’
“The speed probably should have been less than 40 miles per hour,” Ringle said.
Ringle added that the tractor and trailer, owned by Baker Oil Co. of Orleans, separated during the crash, which was not apparent directly after it occurred. The ISP investigation also revealed that Woolston was ejected from the tractor during the accident and did not free himself from the tractor after the propane explosion, as police originally thought.
“That’s really the biggest difference,” Ringle said, explaining what officers learned during the investigation as compared to what they originally determined about the crash.
Ringle said the ISP is unsure how the explosion started, and officers have not been able to identify its origin.
“It found a source somewhere,” he said.
English Volunteer Fire Dept. Assistant Chief Mike Benham said the contents of the propane tank caused a minimal amount of contamination in the area as the fire caused by the explosion slowly burned itself out with firefighters, police, emergency and environmental personnel standing by after the crash.
A portion of propane gas also escaped after the tanker ruptured and dispersed into the atmosphere, causing no damage. An area south of S.R. 64 was burned and trees were scorched near where the explosion occurred.
Benham said the main environmental concern was presented by diesel fuel and a quantity of oil that escaped from the tractor. Excess diesel was pumped into barrels and removed after the fire was contained, Benham said. Diesel and oil contamination was concentrated in a 24-foot-by-10-foot area, he added.
“We only had limited contamination there,” Benham said.
Baker Oil Co. owner Johnny Baker said about 20 to 30 gallons of diesel seeped into the ground, and soil affected by the contamination was removed and tested under the supervision of the Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management.
“There was a hole in the top of the (diesel) tank,” Baker said, explaining how the diesel leak began.
The soil was collected with a backhoe and trucked to a landfill at Medora, where it was properly disposed of at Baker’s expense.
Benham said Baker Oil Co. was also charged for several expenses the EVFD incurred from using air monitoring equipment and other machinery at the scene and through the investigation and compilation of necessary accident reports. Recovery of fees for services by a volunteer fire department is standard in cases where extensive accidents occur and is also allowable under Indiana law, Benham said.
Benham praised Baker Oil Co. for its work to help minimize contamination in the area and its willingness to assist with the clean-up effort.
“The owner took responsibility and did a lot of that for us,” he said.