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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Truck Crashes and Explodes, Igniting Office

Accident: FedEx big rig careens off Ventura Freeway and strikes eight parked cars. Part of pest control building burns. Driver receives only minor injuries.

March 22, 2000|KATIE COOPER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OXNARD — A Federal Express truck careened off the Ventura Freeway early Tuesday and plowed through several parked cars before exploding into flames and igniting the office of a pest control company, creating a nightmare for commuters.

The truck and most of its contents were incinerated in the 6:35 a.m. fire and crash, as were two cars parked at the Owl Towing and Storage yard on Ventura Boulevard, Officer Dave Webb of the California Highway Patrol said. The office of Candlelite Pest Control was heavily damaged by the fire.

The driver, Eugene Colon, 34, escaped before the truck exploded and suffered only minor injuries, as did the driver of a flatbed truck that was struck by Colon's vehicle, authorities said.

All the cargo aboard the FedEx truck was destined for distribution in Ventura County, said Carla Boyd, a company spokeswoman.

"Thank God everyone was OK," she said.

The freeway was closed in both directions for more than an hour between Del Norte Boulevard and Rice Avenue while billows of black smoke blanketed freeway lanes and officials investigated whether any flammable or hazardous materials were stored in the pest control office.

Morning rush-hour traffic, which was backed up five miles, was diverted onto Rose and Central avenues, but that did little to help commuters.

"People didn't go anywhere," Webb said. "I'm glad I wasn't in it."

Webb said a rock struck the windshield of the FedEx truck as it traveled north near Del Norte Boulevard. He said Colon then swerved to his right and collided with the flatbed--driven by Oxnard resident Gilbert Simental--as it entered the freeway, Webb said.

Both vehicles then veered out of control and through a chain-link fence that borders Ventura Boulevard in Nyeland Acres, an unincorporated area just outside Oxnard's city limits.

Simental's flatbed, which was hauling a large steel plate for C&S Pipeline Inc., flipped over on Ventura Boulevard, authorities said. But the FedEx truck continued out of control and struck eight cars at the towing yard, rupturing its gas tank and setting off explosions and a fire that engulfed the FedEx truck, its freight and two cars on the lot.

The burning truck came to rest only a few feet from the pest control offices, which was unoccupied at the time.

The flames jumped to the small building, about half of which was consumed in the blaze, authorities said.

The company usually conducts staff meetings at 6:30 Tuesday mornings, but a scheduling conflict caused this week's meeting to be canceled, office manager Brad Craig said.

CHP Officer Ryan Stonebraker, the first to arrive on the scene, said the flames from the FedEx truck were as high as nearby telephone poles. He also said he heard several explosions as he drove to the site.

Stonebraker said both Colon and Simental, 55, had left their vehicles by the time he had arrived. Both drivers were taken to St. John's Medical Center in Oxnard, where they were treated and released.

Bob Glasby, owner of Owl Towing and Storage, said that after seeing one truck upside-down and the gutted shell of another, it was miraculous no one was killed.

"I didn't believe it by looking at the trucks," he said.

The towing lot stores a variety of cars, including those recently repossessed. Two 1995 vehicles, a Nissan Ultima and a Nissan Pathfinder that had been repossessed overnight, were totaled in the crash, Stonebraker said. Firefighters from the Oxnard Fire Department donned hazardous-material uniforms in case the pest control office had stored any flammable chemicals. But officials concluded that the firm's pesticides were stored in another building on the property.

Tuesday afternoon, work crews were removing biohazardous materials from the charred remains of the FedEx truck. Webb identified the material as human fat lipids, apparently removed during liposuction surgery.

Boyd with Federal Express said the truck was transporting "a little bit of everything, including overnight letters." She said the company could not immediately calculate the value of the loss.

Boyd urged customers to call (800) GO-FEDEX if they believe they had any packages on the truck. The company's policy is to reimburse customers $100 if their shipping material is lost or destroyed. A higher reimbursement amount may be available if customers claimed a value in excess of $100 at the time of shipping, she said.

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