A Hamilton man suffered serious burns in an early morning tanker crash in Saugus on Saturday that killed the tanker truck driver.
Kevin Fitzgerald, 60, was taken by ambulance to to be treated for severe burn injuries, State Police said in a press release issued at about 6:45 p.m. on Saturday. State Police didn’t say whether anyone else was with Fitzgerald in his vehicle or what type of vehicle he was driving. A Mass General spokesman said Saturday night that there was no information available about Fitzgerald’s condition.
The crash happened at 2:15 a.m. on Route 1 in Saugus, killing Neil Michaud, 59, of Manchester, N.H., who was driving a 1998 Peterbilt tractor northbound on Route 1.
The crash also caused two explosions, building fires and the evacuation of some nearby homes, police said.
Fitzgerald’s vehicle was one of seven vehicles – in addition to the tanker – that were involved in the crash. Some of vehicles were burned severely, police said.
“The roles that each of those vehicles played in the sequence of events remains part of the ongoing investigation,” police said in the statement released Saturday evening, later adding: “The facts and circumstances of the crash - including the exact sequence of events - remain under investigation by Troop A of the Massachusetts State Police.”
Two other drivers were taken to with minor injuries.
State Police continue to piece together the events that led up to the crash. Police asks anyone who witnessed the crash to contact the at 978-538-6161.
The fuel tanker was owned by PJ Murphy Inc. of Methuen - a company that has a “generally good safety record” with the State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Section. The tanker disintegrated in the explosion and fire after the crash.
An initial investigation by Trooper Joseph Keefe found that the tractor and tanker rolled over on the guardrail median and the trailer ended up on the southbound side of Route 1.
The trailer had about 11,000 gallons of gasoline in it, which caught fire after the crash with a fireball reaching 60 feet high. Those flames extended higher than the nearby Essex Street overpass, burning the road and highway sign on the bridge.
Officials from the state Department of Transportation examined the Essex Street overpass to check its structural integrity and found it was OK. It was reopened on Saturday.
In addition, a “river of fire” consisting of burning gasoline flowed south from the crash scene along the highway. Gasoline from the tanker also flowed into storm drains along Route 1, making its way into a brook that runs perpendicular to Route 1 behind businesses on the highway and near the Vine Street neighborhood in Saugus, police said.
About 40 minutes after the crash, the gasoline in the drainage culvert ignited and caused an explosion along several hundred feet of the culvert near the backyards on Vine Street.
That explosion caused two buildings in a greenhouse complex as well as a house to catch on fire. Those buildings all suffered “significant damage,” police said. The crash and resulting fires resulted in about 120 people living nearby were evacuated to the Saugus senior center, which served as an emergency shelter. The evacuees were allowed to return to their home mid-morning on Saturday.
The crash closed Route 1 in both directions until mid-day on Saturday. By late Saturday afternoon, the middle and right lanes were open on both the southbound and northbound sides.
The far left lanes will be in both directions “well into Sunday” so that the road and guardrail can be repaired, police said.
On Saturday evening, police said that the road was expected to be entirely open again by 2 p.m. on Sunday. In the meantime, police said drivers should avoid the area.
In addition to troopers from Troop A of the Massachusetts State Police, the investigation is being conducted in conjunction with the State Police Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Section, the State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Section, the State Police Crime Scene Services Section and the Essex County State Police Detective Unit.