The five victims killed on Friday after a truck crash led to a toxic gas leak in rural Illinois included three members of a young local family, along with a 67-year-old from neighbouring Missouri and a 31-year-old from Ohio.
Effingham County Coroner Kim Rhodes named the victims on Sunday after a preliminary investigation revealed all five died from exposure at the scene to anhydrous ammonia, WTOW reported.
Killed were Kenneth Bryan, 34, of Teutopolis, Illinois, along with seven-year-old Rosie and 10-year-old Walker Bryan, of Beecher City, Ill; 31-year-old Vasile Cricovan, of Twinsburg, Ohio; and 67-year-old Danny J. Smith, of New Haven, Missouri.
Five injured people were also airlifted to area hospitals, officials said, naming them as Jacob Bloemker, 24, of Brownstown, Illinois; John Costello, 19, of Olathe, Kansas; Anja Dangelmaier, 18, of Dallas, Texas; Sara Tague, 18, of Lake Elmo, Minnesota; and Terrie Tudor, 61, of Union, Missouri. according to WTOW/WAWV.
“Two other individuals were treated at St. Anthony Hospital in Effingham for exposure at the scene, and several others were treated in Vincennes after traveling past the crash site,” the outlets reported.
A GoFundMe set up for Anja Dangelmaier detailed how the college student was “on her way to a swim meet against Ohio State” with three teammates, travelling behind the tanker when it overturned.
“Anja stopped her car and the 4 swimmers bailed and ran away as the chemical plume covered them,” the GoFundMe states. “Anja and two of her teammates were airlifted to different hospitals, while one went by ambulance. All have similar chemical burn symptoms in varying degrees - lungs, eyes, and various body parts.
“The next 24-48 hours will likely predict her future course of treatment. Hard to say how long the recovery will be, but it’s certain to be awhile.”
According to a separate GoFundMe for Vasile Cricovan, who was killed in the accident, he had also been traveling behind the ill-fated tanker.
“It is with devastating pain in my heart that I inform you that our beloved son, husband, father, brother, cousin and friend passed away on the evening of September 29 following a tragic road accident,” Liudmila Cricovan wrote in a heartbreaking post on the fundraiser page. “A truck carrying anhydrous ammonium overturned in front of him, he braked and got out of his truck and inhaled toxic vapors, after which he had a respiratory failure.”
NTSB officials and other investigators remained on site on Sunday to determine the circumstances surrounding the fatal accident, which appeared to result from a tragic confluence of freak events.
“Here's what we know: at about 8.40pm Central Daylight Time on Friday, September 29th, a tanker truck operated by Prairieland Transport Limited, of Brownstown, Illinois, was travelling westbound on US Highway 40,” NTSB board member Tom Chapman said at a news conference.
“Our preliminary information indicates that another vehicle may have been involved in a passing manoeuvre near the tanker truck. The driver of the truck appears to have reacted by pulling to the right; the tanker truck departed the roadway. After departing the roadway, the truck rolled over, and the cargo tank was compromised,” he said.
Mr Chapman said the truck had been loaded with approximately 7,500 gallons of anhydrous ammonia, which is used for a variety of industrial and agricultural purposes and is “both caustic and hazardous in its concentrated form.”
“Damage to the cargo tank resulted from collision of the tank with a parked utility trailer. As it rolled over, the tanker truck jackknifed and exposed the head end of the tank,” Mr Chapman said. “As momentum carried the tank forward. It came into contact with the hitch on the utility trailer. The hitch punctured the cargo tank, leaving a hole approximately six inches in diameter. Damage to the tank led to the release of anhydrous ammonia.”
— IllinoisStatePolice (@ILStatePolice) October 1, 2023
US Highway 40 remained closed until Sunday afternoon as investigators continued to probe the crash.
“With regard to this tragedy, we at NTSB are particularly interested in issues relating to cargo tank crashworthiness, hazardous materials routing, and operations of the motor carrier,” Mr Chapman said Sunday. “In addition to our investigators, we have a specialist from our Office of Transportation Disaster Assistance on scene, who will be working closely with the families and local agencies to provide support to those involved.”
He said the NTSB investigative team was expected to remain on site for up to six days, with a preliminary report expected in about 30 days, though final reports can take up to two years to complete.
The Friday night crash forced the temporary evacuation of many residents of Teutopolis, a 1,600-person Illinois town about 100 miles northeast of St Louis.
The accident caused “a large plume, cloud of anhydrous ammonia on the roadway that caused terribly dangerous air conditions in the northeast area of Teutopolis,” Effingham County Sheriff Paul Kuhns said at a Saturday news conference. “Because of these conditions, the emergency responders had to wait. They had to mitigate the conditions before they could really get to work on it, and it was a fairly large area.”
Authorities said that crews working overnight struggled against shifting wind.
“The wind changed three or four different times on us,” said Tim McMahon, chief of the Teutopolis Fire Protection District. “That’s another reason we got crews out in different places, reporting back on which way the wind’s going.”
No emergency responders were injured during the massive initial response to the leak, which included about 100 personnel from 15 agencies, Mr McMahon said.
Illinois State Police and other agencies had wrapped up their emergency response Sunday, and the estimated 500 residents evacuated had been allowed to return home, officials said.