Driver in fiery I-75 tanker crash dies

Holly Fournier, Leonard N. Fleming, and Tom Greenwood

Lincoln Park — A 53-year-old truck driver has died following a tanker truck explosion on Interstate 75 in Lincoln Park, authorities confirmed Friday.

Brighton-based Corrigan Oil Co. says its driver, identified by Michigan State Police as Roddy Blaine Winn of Detroit, died Thursday night.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of a longtime member of the Corrigan family,” company president Mike Corrigan said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers will remain with the driver’s wife and two daughters during these tough times.”

Officials said Winn likely was traveling southbound when he hit the center median and flipped into the northbound lanes, where the tanker exploded at the Outer Drive bridge at about 3:20 a.m. at the Lincoln Park-Melvindale border.

Winn died from his injuries around 6:45 p.m. Thursday, according to the Lincoln Park Fire Department.

The crash likely was caused by driver error, according to a Michigan State Police investigation.

“It’s going to be either the speed was too fast for the conditions or he fell asleep,” Lt. Mike Shaw said. “There’s no other conclusion that we could draw, and, unfortunately, we are unable to talk to him.”

The police investigation ruled out alcohol and drugs as factors in the crash, which severely damaged a 110-foot stretch of northbound Interstate 75 between Southfield Road and Outer Drive, Shaw said. The roadway is expected to be closed through early Monday.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, Winn had a clean driving record.

MDOT spokeswoman Diane Cross said officials hope to reopen the affected area at 5 a.m. Monday but warned it could take longer depending on how quickly it takes the concrete to set. Workers were pouring concrete late Friday morning. State officials signed a $200,000 contract with Florence Cement Co. of Shelby Township to make the repairs.

“The concrete is severely damaged and all lanes need to be replaced on northbound I-75 at Outer Drive,” Cross said. “It was bad, but if this had occurred during rush-hour traffic, there’s no telling how many persons could have been injured. There could have been 25 other vehicles around the tanker.”

MDOT officials estimate 55,000 daily commuters will be affected by the closure, as road workers rush to rebuild the roadway that was burned by the 8,000 gallons of gas, searing the concrete nearly 3 inches deep.

State police’s Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Section is working with Corrigan to check paperwork for the vehicle and company, Shaw said.

Meanwhile, MDOT suggests motorists headed to Detroit use I-94 from the Southfield Freeway, or take Fort Street, which runs parallel to I-75, to the freeway at Outer Drive.

Drivers also will need to heed I-94 roadwork, however: Two left lanes will be closed from Oakwood to the Lodge Freeway from 7 a.m. Saturday until 9 p.m. Sunday; farther east, all eastbound and westbound lanes in Detroit will be closed from the Lodge Freeway to I-75 from 9 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. Monday for bridge repairs at Woodward.

MDOT officials said “high-impact” crashes that closed more than one lane or ramp in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and St. Clair counties have been on the rise. In 2013, there were 1,259 crashes, climbing to 1,420 in 2014. There have been 919 crashes through July, the latest statistics available.

There were 22 single-vehicle crashes from midnight to 5 a.m. Thursday in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties, Shaw said.

“This is all the same thing: single vehicles, drivers going too fast for road conditions, and spin-out crashes,” Shaw said. “This is a problem we need to educate a lot of our drivers about in Metro Detroit. Slow down, or don’t drive at all. We’re seeing a lot of these single-vehicle crashes where the only cause is driving too fast for the road conditions.”

SEMCOG deputy director Carmine Palombo said it’s important to carefully examine various causes of truck crashes.

“Each one of these has to be analyzed by itself to be able to find the causes,” Palombo said. “We’ve had some incidents of driver error. We’ve had a couple of situations where it had something to do with the cargo itself. We’ve had incidents where other drivers have been part of the reason for it.”

SEMCOG is a regional government agency that studies mass transportation issues including roads.

Full road closures due to these accidents have been climbing, too. In 2013, there were 288; in 2014, there were 295. So far this year through July, there have been 132, MDOT officials said.

Rob Morosi of MDOT said a combination of factors contribute to these accidents, including an “uptick” in the economy with more people working, and on the roads, distractions such as cellphones and weather.

Morosi said Thursday’s crash doesn’t “supersede other similar accidents dramatically but looking at the location, the traffic volume, it’s probably one of the more significant ones we’ve had.”

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