As a result of the collision, the cab of his oil-based asphalt tanker caught on fire and was engulfed in flames, according to reports. That fire sparked intense grass fires along the median.
All lanes of I-37 traffic, northbound and southbound, were closed for hours following the 5:08 p.m. accident. Traffic was stalled for miles in all directions. Authorities were on the scene until roughly 10:17 p.m., although southbound I-37 reopened before 7 p.m.
Live Oak County authorities did not immediately identify the deceased driver, pending the completion of a report by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
But Live Oak County Sheriff Larry Busby said during a telephone interview that, despite the victim’s proximity to the fire, he probably did not die of burns.
“An injury, or injuries, to his head is probably what caused the death — he didn’t seem to be burned that much,” the sheriff said. “After the initial wreck, the driver apparently got out and walked around a little bit, then for some reason lay down by his truck. When some people got over to where they could check on him after the fire started, they found he was deceased.”
Initial reports indicate the driver of the vehicle that collided with the tanker made the first call to 911.
“Caller advised that he was involved in an accident with a tanker truck,” according to Live Oak County sheriff’s records. “Caller advised that he was not injured but did not know if the driver of the tanker trunk is injured.”
Another 911 call from a second party soon indicated the situation had accelerated.
“The caller advised the tanker is on fire,” reports show.
Lloyd Wientjes, chief of the George West Volunteer Fire Department, said firefighters from Swinney Switch, Beeville and Three Rivers fought hard to keep the cab and grass fires under control.
“Our big deal was trying to contain the fire to the truck before working on the grass fire itself,” Chief Wientjes said.
Lonnie Messer, Swinney Switch volunteer fire chief, said firefighters were successful in preventing the tanker from detonating.
“There were fuel tanks on that truck, and it got hot for a while, but the tank itself didn’t catch on fire,” Chief Messer said.
More details about the accident will be reported as they become available.
Ben Tinsley is a reporter for The Progress newspaper in Three Rivers. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com or by phone at 361-786-3022. Tinsley can also be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BenTinsley, Google at http://plus.google.com/+BenTinsley or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ben.tinsley.12.