Truck accident creates oil, diesel spill on Watauga Lake

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   A car hauler from Gate City, Va., took a nose dive into Watauga Lake around 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, triggering an oil and diesel spill. Members of several state and local agencies responded to investigate the accident while HEPACO environmental cleanup crews installed booms to contain the products.
   Jim Burrough, director of Carter County Emergency Management Agency, said Mark Edward Guyer, Route 1, Box 120, Gate City, Va., was traveling on U.S. Highway 321/67 from Elizabethton toward Mountain City near the Captain's Table restaurant when smoke began rolling up inside the cab of the truck to the point that the driver was unable to see.
   "He pulled off to the side of the road and pulled off too far to the edge and the front end fell over the bank. He said he jumped out and it went down. He thought it had hit a bush down at the bottom, but it hadn't. It hit the water," Burrough said. "By the time he got out of it, the thing was in the water. He jumped off just as it started down the bank and skinned his arm."
   According to Burrough, the driver did not have the trailer attached at the time of the accident and only the tractor portion was submerged in water.
   Carter County Rescue Squad diver John Burleson and a diver from Johnson City went down Tuesday afternoon and hooked cables to the tractor. Edgehill Wrecker Service then used two large wreckers to bring it up, Burrough said.
   The truck was approximately 15 to 20 feet out from shore, covered by 16 to 18 feet of water, he said. "After we found the front of it, it just dropped straight off and went down about 100 feet. It was sitting on a ledge, I guess."
   Members of Tennessee Highway Patrol, Carter County Sheriff's Department, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency water specialists were still on the scene late Tuesday evening.
   HEPACO and Carter County EMS Director Terry Arnold put the booms in place, according to Burrough. "We have got 200 feet of boom around where the truck went in to contain the oil." HEPACO was still on the scene around 8:30 p.m.
   Cleanup crews worked against the clock, closely monitoring an advancing storm front and severe weather warning issued by the National Weather Service for later in the evening.
   "There's supposed to be a storm come in tonight. When we have a little one downtown, the lake gets rough," Burrough said. "We're trying to get everything soaked up and picked up that we can, but they're going to have to come back tomorrow and finish it up."
   Burrough said his office was not notified of the accident until around 10:30-11 a.m., when he received a call from 911 telling him there was a spill. Other state agencies also were not notified as required, he said.
   "I've got to call back TEMA (Tennessee Emergency Management Agency) now and report that we are cleaning it up and who's responsible and who's paying for it.
   "It's the fuzziest case I've ever been on. All I know is that we do have a mess here and we've got several people from HEPACO and others trying to clean this oil up and get the slick off the lake," he said.