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4 Wrecks Snarl Commute for Inland Empire Drivers

A 6,400-gallon oil spill started things out early Tuesday at a busy freeway junction. Other wrecks at strategic points came hours later.

May 31, 2006|Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writer

Four freeway accidents in the Inland Empire, including a massive oil spill that closed a portion of one of Riverside County's busiest interchanges for more than 12 hours, created a nightmare for morning commuters Tuesday.

An oil tanker trailer overturned on southbound Highway 60/215 at the interchange of the Riverside Freeway about 3:15 a.m. Tuesday, spilling thousands of gallons on the highway.

The accident occurred when the truck was merging from the eastbound Riverside Freeway, and the tanker slid across three lanes and slammed into the concrete median, said Jaci Parent, public affairs officer with the California Highway Patrol in Riverside. An estimated 6,400 gallons of waste oil was dumped onto the roadway, Parent said.

Three cars and another truck then collided, sliding on the oil-slick freeway, authorities said. No one was injured.

Authorities closed the portion of Highway 60 that runs through Riverside while Caltrans hazardous-material crews mopped up the spill, said Terese Lagane, a Caltrans spokeswoman. The closure lasted all day, slowing the afternoon commute as well, she said.

An estimated 324,000 motorists pass through that congested 91-215-60 interchange daily, Lagane said. Drivers already battle delays caused by a $317-million overhaul of the interchange that has been underway for two years.

Esme Hooks was caught in the late-morning crawl as she dropped her daughter Andrea off at UC Riverside after the holiday weekend. The spill stretched Hooks' usual drive of roughly an hour from her home near downtown Los Angeles to three hours.

With just two weeks until finals, Hooks' 18-year-old daughter, a freshman, missed her English and environmental science classes because of the delays.

Mechanic Alan Rizzone, 52, was worried that he might lose his job in Moreno Valley because the closures made him so late to work. It took him nearly two hours to get through the interchange from his home in Ontario. Rizzone said he was forced to stop and pump more diesel into his pickup because he had been on the road so long.

CHP officials investigating the accident said the truck driver may have been traveling at 55 mph on the freeway transition ramp, which is considered excessive on that ramp, Parent said.

Some of the oil spilled onto the ramp's right shoulder, soaking into the soil and affecting both directions of traffic, Lagane said. Caltrans put electronic warning signs along the 60-215 Tuesday to warn drivers of the closure and advise them to find alternate routes.

A second accident shut down northbound Interstate 15 near the Pomona Freeway interchange briefly late Tuesday morning when a tractor-trailer jackknifed.

The cause of the incident, which caused minor injuries to the truck driver and the driver of another car, was still under investigation, Parent said.

Earlier Tuesday, two trucks and five cars crashed on the westbound Pomona Freeway near the San Bernardino County-Los Angeles County line near Pomona, said David Efferson, CHP public affairs officer. A car hit one truck when its driver changed lanes, then swerved out of control as four other cars and a second tractor trailer piled up behind it.

Firefighters had to cut passengers out of their cars, blocking all westbound lanes between 7 and 8 a.m. No one was seriously injured, and all lanes were reopened by 9 a.m., Efferson said.

Finally, a tractor-trailer traveling west on Interstate 10 near San Bernardino collided with two cars about 10:30 a.m., dropping about 75 gallons of diesel fuel on the roadway, Efferson said. Most lanes in both directions were blocked for several hours while crews cleaned up the small spill; the road was completely reopened by 2:30 p.m., Efferson said. There were no injuries.

The cause of the accident is still under investigation.

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