Tuolumne County workers removed concrete barriers from a 7-mile-long closure of Wards Ferry Road on Wednesday, more than 10 days after a big rig driver hauling a pressurized propane tank trailer went off the road and tumbled hundreds of feet down a brushy slope toward the Tuolumne River.

Two orange cones with black CHP letters on them still marked Wednesday afternoon where the 2014 Kenworth and the propane tank trailer went off the road late Jan. 11.

County roads, fire and environmental health staff took part in the decision to reopen the former wagon road once a contractor for Transco Logistics vacuumed 8,800 to 9,000 gallons of propane out of the tank trailer, a process that started Thursday last week and ended Monday this week, California Highway Patrol Sgt. Randy Matyshock said.

“They used a hose and sucked it up into another tank, and vapor flared a lot of it off,” Matyshock said. “They had a flare going for several days and monitored by fire agencies, burning off propane vapor.”

Matyshock said at the crash scene last week the big rig and trailer were 500 feet down the slope.

Transco Logistics was still looking at options to remove the big rig and the tank trailer, Matyshock said. Transco Logistics staff could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The crash happened about 10 p.m. Jan. 11, a Friday night, on Wards Ferry Road south of Powell Ranch Road, according to CHP personnel based in Jamestown. The truck driver, Michael D. Rusch,53, of Bakersfield, was trying to drive a 2014 Kenworth and the pressurized propane tank trailer south on the road, descending into the Tuolumne River canyon, when he failed to safely negotiate a curve, CHP Officer E. Lopez said in a crash report.

The Kenworth and the propane tank trailer went off the road, slid down the slope, became separated and both sustained major damage, but the tank trailer did not rupture, Lopez said. The propane load was secure, but it was far below the road.

The driver, Michael P. Rusch, 53, of Bakersfield, sustained minor injuries, climbed back up to the road, walked to a ranch home and called for help, Matyshock said. He was taken to Adventist Health Sonora for treatment and by last week he was resting and recovering at home in Bakersfield. His wife referred questions to a safety manager with Transco Logistics, Tom Davis, who declined to say where Rusch was trying to go when he crashed.

An investigation will continue until the 2014 Kenworth and the propane tank trailer are removed from the site or a decision is made to leave the wreckage where it came to rest below Wards Ferry Road and above the Tuolumne River, Matyshock said. A decision on whether Rusch will be cited or charged is pending and will be up to the investigating officer.

A sign Rusch drove past before the crash remains on Wards Ferry Road, stating, “CAUTION -- Steep Grades, Narrow One Lane Road -- No Turnouts -- Autos with Trailer, Buses & Trucks Not Recommended Next 9 Miles -- Use State Highway 120.”

That section of Wards Ferry Road is a narrow, winding, single-lane paved track. It descends and ascends blind-curve switchbacks that were laid out 140 years ago in the Tuolumne River canyon, before the first internal combustion engine automobiles were built.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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