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Tractor-trailer accident on I-70 bridge delays traffic

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Wayne E. Ray for Trib Total Media
Traffic is delayed on Interstate 70 while emergency crews respond to a tractor-trailer accident on the Belle Vernon-Speers Bridge. The accident happened in the eastbound lanes just after 5 p.m. Firefighters from three counties including Charleroi, Belle Vernon, Fallowfield Township, Rostraver Central, Stockdale, Bentleyville, California and Washington Township responded to the scene.

Traffic in both directions of Interstate 70 was halted on Monday afternoon after a tractor-trailer caught fire on the Belle Vernon-Speers Bridge.

The bridge spans the Monongahela River and links Fayette and Westmoreland counties to Washington County.

Mark Heidenreich, a driver for Stone Belt Freight Lines Inc. of Bloomington, Ind., said he wasn't sure if he hit something that caused his flatbed trailer to blow a tire.

“I noticed the car in front of me swerve slightly, but I've noticed cars do that all the time when they're about to cross the bridge,” a shaken Heidenreich said. “That tire blew and took me right into the wall.”

Rostraver Central fire Chief Vince Campbell said his department was called at 5 p.m. for the fire.

“I'm not sure what caused the fire,” Campbell said. “There was a trail of oil all the way back into the Washington County side that actually caught fire.

“So crews had to put that fire out when they got onto the highway.”

The tractor-trailer appeared to be carrying a load of concrete slabs. The accident and fire occurred in the middle of the bridge.

Heidenreich said he was not injured.

“Damn … I lost my glasses in there somewhere,” he said staring into the rig's fire-ravaged cab. “I came to rest on the wall and got out of there pretty quick. I actually tried to go back in after them, but the smoke was just too much. I'm fine, though, just a little shook up is all.”

Rostraver firefighters were assisted at the scene by crews from Belle Vernon, Charleroi and Fallowfield Township. A tanker truck from Washington Township was on standby on the Belle Vernon side of the bridge in case more water was needed.

Personnel from Mon Valley Emergency Medical Services and state troopers from the Belle Vernon Barracks were at the scene.

Bujanowski Towing of North Charleroi was called in to remove the wreckage.

All four lanes were closed as crews worked to extinguish the blaze. The two westbound lanes were reopened at 5:40 p.m. The eastbound lanes reopened shortly before 8 p.m.

“(Bujanowski's) was moving quickly to get the load stabilized and move the truck out,” Campbell said. “PennDOT was notified, but two districts were notified because the incident crosses into both counties.

“There was a lot of oil and fluid. I'd imagine that the fluid cleanup is going to take a while.”

PennDOT spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick said the bridge did not have any structural damage. Some fluid from the truck seeped into a drainage pipe below the span, melting it. PVC pipe that collects water runoff from the bridge will be repaired, Kirkpatrick said.

Stone Belt Freight safety director Stan Kindred said the driver began his trip at the company's base in Bloomington. When asked Heidenreich's destination, Kindred would only say he was “going east.”

“We're still trying to gather information from state police and the driver,” Kindred said.

Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2667 or [email protected]. Staff writer Chris Buckley contributed to this report.

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