Tanker Spills 1,700 Gallons of Gas, Shuts Highway in Morgan Hill

A 23-year-old driver traveling at 80 mph on wet roads lost control early Thursday, slamming into a guardrail and a big rig carrying 8,500 gallons of gasoline in Morgan Hill, causing the tanker to roll down a ditch, flip on its side and spill nearly a quarter of its load.

The accident forced all lanes of U.S. Highway 101 at Tennant Avenue in Morgan Hill to shut down just after 2 a.m. and created a commuting nightmare for those traveling in the southern section of Santa Clara County. After more than 12 hours, all three lanes reopened around 2:30 p.m.

Not only traffic was affected. Hazmat crews spent the morning cleaning up the 1,700 gallons of fuel that spilled on the road, and the unknown amont that leaked into the nearby Llagas Creek, which feeds into the Bay. A CHP officer had originally told NBC Bay Area that 4,000 gallons had spilled.

"Due to his unsafe speed for the wet roadway conditions, the driver of the (Nissan) 350Z lost control of his vehicle which spun out of control into the center median and collided with a metal guardrail," CHP Officer Herb Kellogg said. That impact, Kellogg said, led the Nissan - driven by Bruno Mercado - to crash into a three-axle truck pulling a two-axle trailer, with a combined load of 8,500 gallons of gasoline.

Though he was traveling at 80 mph in "heavy rain and wet roadway conditions," Kelogg said Mercado was not arrested Thursday morning, because Kellogg said drugs and alcohol were not a factor.  As the law is written, only people who are under the influence can be arrested for crashes, Kellogg said.

Still, Kellogg told NBC Bay Area that it's "very likely" that Mercado will be cited for driving at an unsafe speed, which carries a financial penalty.

Kellogg said he didn't know how much the fine would be, but that he assumed Mercado's insurance company would have to pay for much of the cleanup.

Mercado was not hurt, according to the CHP, and the driver of the tanker - a 27-year-old man from Stockton - complained of upper and lower back pain and was taken to Regional Medical Center in San Jose.

Motorists had to exit the highway and find a route to Monterey Road to get by. At 8 a.m., the tanker was being removed from the road and by 8:30 a.m. one lane had been reopened, letting some traffic sneak by. Just before 11 a.m., two lanes were open.

In addition, a total of 14 homes in the area were evacuated because of the leaking fuel.

As hazmat crews cleared the road, California Department of Fish and Game wardens and  Santa Clara Water District employees checked out nearby waterways after the truck's fuel spilled down the drain in Llagas Creek.

Warden Todd Araji said his department would be checking for contaminated water and injured wildlife, but so far, there hasn't been any significant environmental problems that have been noted.

Here's the car the CHP said caused the accident.

NBC Bay Area's Shelby Hansen and Allen Weddington contributed to this report.

Contact Us