A propane tank truck-trailer combo that was driven off Wards Ferry Road and fell several hundred feet into the steep-sided Tuolumne River canyon on Jan. 11 is still down there, Rob Kostlivy, director of Tuolumne County Environmental Health said this week.

It’s likely to stay there indefinitely because T ransco Logistics, the Oklahoma-based trucking company accountable for the crash, Ten-West Environmental, the contractor hired by Transco Logistics to clean up the mess, and county Environmental Health staff finished their hazardous materials cleanup work in January and February, and they consider the crash site secure.

Kostlivy released photos of the crashed big rig’s truck cab Friday. He said the propane tank component detached from the cab and it fell further downslope to about 400 feet below Wards Ferry Road. Photos of the detached propane tank were not available.

Transco Logistics and Ten-West Environmental representatives could not be reached to comment. A typical tractor-trailer combination truck can weigh 35,000 pounds empty and unladen. A 10,000-gallon truck-and-trailer combination can weigh up to 50,000 pounds empty. In addition, a 10,000-gallon propane tank trailer can be 40 feet long or longer.

The primary hazardous materials concern with the crash was 9,000 gallons of pressurized propane that was in the tanker truck when the truck driver failed to navigate the narrowness of Wards Ferry Road.

Back in January, Kostlivy said he and multiple other county agencies, including fire and law enforcement, worked with Ten-West staff to devise a plan to safely get all the flammable and potentially explosive propane out of the wrecked big rig’s pressurized, upside-down tank trailer in January. Safety steps to avoid accidental ignition of about 9,000 gallons of pressurized propane included grounding the wrecked truck and a salvage truck with steel poles driven into the earth to prevent static electricity from sparking a blaze or explosion.

They also kept 99 psi — pounds per square inch — of pressure on the propane load in the wrecked tank, and they kept zero psi on the salvage truck’s tank, which was parked above the wrecked truck-trailer combo, up on Wards Ferry Road.

The pressure helped lift propane out of the wrecked tank and raise it through a hose to the salvage truck’s tank, where workers burned off propane as it changed from liquid to gas in what they called a flaring operation.

Sgt. Randy Matyshock with the Sonora-California Highway Patrol said workers had a flare going several days at the cleanup site and fire agencies monitored them burning off propane vapor.

Workers also used a chemical compound called BioSolve to dilute, mitigate and remove about 110 gallons of diesel, 12 gallons of antifreeze, and an unspecified amount of hydraulic fluid that spilled from the wrecked big rig, Kostlivy said.

Final cleanup and followup testing happened Feb. 21. The bill for Tuolumne County Environmental Health alone was 70 hours or $8,272.60.

Estimates for costs of the crash incurred by other responding agencies including CHP, Cal Fire, Tuolumne County Fire, Tuolumne County Sheriff, and County Roads were not available. The trucking company and its insurance company are responsible for all costs associated with the rollover, Kostlivy said. The responsible party is Transco Logistics.

A sign was in place Jan. 11 and according to a California Highway Patrol investigator the truck driver went past a sign stating:

Steep Grades

Narrow One Lane Road

No Turnouts

Autos with Trailer, Buses & Trucks

Not Recommended Next 9 Miles

Use State Highway 120

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.

Rusch 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. A safety manager with Transco Logistics, Tom Davis, declined to say in January where Rusch was trying to go when he crashed.

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

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