Accident critiqued by responders

From Staff Reports

   EMS personnel believe they were "extremely lucky" in dealing with an overturned propane tank truck carrying explosive liquefied gas that was involved in a five-vehicle accident on West Elk Avenue Oct. 25.
   "We were extremely lucky the propane tank did not rupture in the accident and there was no ignition source," Elizabethton Fire Chief Mike Shouse said during a critique at the county's Emergency Management Agency on Friday.
   Shouse said if the 2,600-pound liquid propane tank had exploded, "... there would have been numerous casualties and widespread property damage from the explosion and fire."
   By comparison, an explosion of 400 pounds of propane gas severely damaged several buildings in Mountain City's downtown district in 1992.
   The wreck occurred near Sycamore Shoals Hospital. The accident forced the closing of Highway 67, a major four-lane thoroughfare through Elizabethton, for 14 hours until cleanup was completed. Three motorists were injured in the accident.
   At one time, eastbound traffic was backed up to the off ramp of Interstate 181 in Johnson City. Thousands of motorists use the route through Elizabethton in a typical day.
   The nearby East Tennessee Railway track was also closed as a safety precaution.
   Jeffrey A. Holtsclaw, 40, has been charged with driving under the influence, second offense, aggravated assault by reckless conduct of a motor vehicle, and possession of Schedule VI and II narcotics, as well as two counts of possession of Schedule IV narcotics in connection with the accident.
   He appeared in General Sessions Court on Monday and is schedule to reappear with an attorney on Dec. 3.
   Shouse, who directed emergency operations at the scene, said the first emergency response units arriving on the scene determined no propane gas was leaking from the truck.
   "The caller who reported the accident to the 911 Communications Center indicated a concrete mixer truck had overturned," said Shouse. "We didn't know it was a propane tank truck until the first emergency response units arrived on the scene."
   As a safety precaution, the nearby medical office building and Sycamore Shoals Day Care Center were evacuated. The center's 33 students and adults were moved to the Cyclone Pre-school Center two miles away.
   Terry Arnold, director of the Carter County Emergency & Rescue Squad, said he worked with Sycamore Shoals Hospital and Rondald Taylor, assistant director of Elizabethton City Schools, to evacuate the Day Care Center.
   Charles Whitehead, hospital safety director, said parents were notified by telephone that children in the Day Care Center were being relocated.
   Patients at Sycamore Shoals Hospital in rooms facing West Elk Avenue were relocated to other rooms within the hospital.
   Police Chief Roger Deal said all off-duty personnel in his department were called to work and officers rerouted traffic to West G Street during the emergency.
   Jim Burrough, director of the Elizabethton/Carter County Emergency Management Agency, complimented the work of the emergency services personnel involved.
   "The only complaints I heard were from motorists who had to alter their normal path of travel," Burrough said. "We regret they were inconvenienced, but there was no alternative other than to close Highway 67 until emergency crews completed their work."