Crews continued cleanup work Saturday and authorities identified the man who died when the fuel tanker he was driving crashed Friday on U.S. Highway 550 just north of the Colorado-New Mexico border.
Twenty-four-year-old Ruben Gomez of New Mexico died when the Western Refining Inc. tanker he was driving rolled over on the highway, the Colorado State Patrol reported.
Gomez was driving northbound when he ran off the right side of the road. After trying to steer the truck back onto the road, he lost control, sending the truck into the median before rolling and blocking the northbound lane, said Colorado State Patrol spokesman Mike Baker.
Authorities have cited “distracted driving” as the cause of the accident and believe that Gomez was texting when the rollover occurred, a State Patrol official said.
The tanker’s full load, 4,000 gallons of fuel, spilled onto the highway and the surrounding soil during the crash, said Dave Imming, spokesman for Durango Fire & Rescue Authority.
After closing the four-lane highway for several hours Friday, crews were able to open two lanes to traffic moving in both directions by about 8 p.m., Imming said.
Vacuum trucks were able to recover 1,500 gallons of fuel, however, 2,500 gallons remain in the soil, he said.
“The fuel gives off vapor, and vapor burns,” he said. “If someone drove by with a cigarette and flicked it, it could cause a fire or even an explosion.”
Crews are completing vapor mitigation in the area, a process which involves covering the area with squares of absorbent material and layering peat moss, tarps and sand, Imming said.
Hazardous material spills typically are paid for by the owner of the vehicle carrying the material, so Western Refining Inc. likely will be responsible for the costly clean-up, Imming said.