(Update: Both southbound lanes of I-75 reopened about 2:27 p.m. Thursday.)
Southbound lanes of I-75 are expected to reopen about 2:30 p.m. following an early morning accident involving a semi near the Whitley County-Tennessee state line, but motorists are encouraged to avoid the area if possible for a while longer until backed up traffic clears.
The wrecked happened about 4:30 a.m. near the one-mile marker in the southbound lane.
“He hit a barrier next to the Tennessee line, and lost a fuel tank. He went probably another 1,000 yards up the interstate and lost another fuel tank when he went in the median. By the time he got stopped, his truck was on fire,” said Whitley County Emergency Management Director Danny Moses. “He was lucky to escape with his life.”
Moses said that it was probably fortunate that the driver lost the two big tanks before the vehicle caught on fire.
Moses said the truck still had a small fuel tank on it that was powering the refrigeration unit, which firefighters had to deal with. The vehicle was hauling boxed lunch meat.
Although the driver lost all of his personal belongings, Moses said he escaped the accident uninjured. No other vehicles were involved in the accident.
The accident left southbound I-75 shutdown for several hours with traffic being detoured onto U25W in Williamsburg.
Moses said that he hopes to reopen the interstate about 2:30 p.m. before school lets out, but he urges drivers to avoid the area if possible until the backed up traffic clears up.
The Whitley County Sheriff’s Department investigated the accident. South Whitley and Emlyn volunteer fire departments, the Jellico Rescue Squad and Eco Tech all assisted at the scene.
Moses said that Eco Tech would be back Friday to finish cleaning up the fuel spill.
The two large tanks, which detached from the vehicle, each held up to 100 gallons of fuel.
Moses said that he isn’t sure when the driver refueled last, but that probably 100 gallons of fuel or more escaped.