Fatal wreck threatened Augusta water supply

Another accident reported Friday morning at same location

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When a flaming truck, leaking diesel fuel, rammed through an Interstate 20 guardrail and plunged into the Augusta Canal early Friday, it did more than kill its driver and slow morning traffic.

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Workers remove a truck from the Augusta Canal that broke through an Interstate 20 guardrail, leaking fuel and spilling lumber.  Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Workers remove a truck from the Augusta Canal that broke through an Interstate 20 guardrail, leaking fuel and spilling lumber.

It threatened Au­gusta’s water supply.

“We did shut down our turbines and are now pumping directly from the river,” Augusta Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier said.

The accident occurred about 12:30 a.m. when an 18-wheeler loaded with lumber struck the guardrail and flipped into the canal.

Chief Deputy Coroner Mark Bowen identified the driver as Benjamin Cunningham, 54, of Bainbridge, Ga., whose body was recovered by divers about five hours after the accident. An autopsy is scheduled.

The accident scene, which spawned a second, less-severe accident during morning rush hour, is just upstream from the city’s pumping station, where canal water is diverted to Augusta’s High­land Avenue treatment plant, which provides city drinking water.

The crash contaminated the canal with fuel and spilled the truck’s cargo of treated lumber.

Dealing with a canal water
incident was planned for long ago, when the city launched a three-year, $63 million water system expansion that was completed in 2009. The upgrades included adding a pair of 2,500-horsepower diesel pumps that could be
used in emergencies to extract water directly from the Savannah River in the event of an accident that renders the canal’s flow unusable.

Those pumps were activated immediately after Friday’s accident, so there was no interruption in the flow of potable water to treatment facilities and Utilities Department customers, Wiedmeier said.

“They will be watching to see how long it takes to get everything cleaned up, and then see how long the fuel takes to get past the
pumping station,” Wiedmeier said.

The canal, built in 1845 and enlarged 30 years later, has provided city water since the late 1800s. In addition to tapping the canal for drinking water, the canal’s powerful flow turns hydromechanical pumps that move the water to the Highland Avenue plant without the use of electricity or diesel power. That saves the city about $1 million a year in energy costs.

Even before the recent expansion, the city maintained emergency pumps that could draw water from the river, but they were limited to 16 million gallons per day. The current system, designed to accommodate the city’s water needs through 2050, can pump as much as 60 million gallons per day from either the canal or the river.

Richmond County sheriff’s Capt. Scott Gay said it has not been determined what caused the driver to lose control of the 18-wheeler.

Authorities believe the driver rode the guardrail until it gave way, causing the cab portion to flip and the diesel tank to rupture and explode. The trailer continued traveling on the bridge until a second portion of the guardrail gave way, sending the trailer off the bridge and on top of the other portion, Gay said.

It did not appear any other vehicles were involved. Emergency responders searched the water for any sign another vehicle might have been sent over in the accident.

“We had to make sure there wasn’t another car because the wreckage was so severe,” Gay said. “It looked like a bomb had gone off.”

The Transporta­tion Depart­ment also sent a crew out to make sure the bridge was safe for travelers.

Gay said he does not anticipate the wreck will hinder the surge in holiday traffic after the wreckage has been cleared.

Comments (20) Add comment
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GaStang22
910
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GaStang22 09/02/11 - 08:51 am
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Condolences to his family.
Unpublished

Condolences to his family.

fcreasy
0
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fcreasy 09/02/11 - 09:21 am
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that is the greatest fear a

that is the greatest fear a truck driver has wrecking on a bridge & being trapped in the cab. God be with his family & friends

Craig Spinks
817
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Craig Spinks 09/02/11 - 09:45 am
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CONDOLENCES to the family of

CONDOLENCES to the family of the victim, a man from my wife's hometown- one of the undiscovered gems in the ole USA.

iLove
626
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iLove 09/02/11 - 09:48 am
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May God provide peace and
Unpublished

May God provide peace and comfort to this family in their time of need.

Boston93
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Boston93 09/02/11 - 09:52 am
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Terrible...I pray for driver

Terrible...I pray for driver and family. What get's to me is that from SC Welcome Center to Georgia Welcome Center headed to Georgia and from Georgia to South Carolina Welcome Center the traffic flys like they are at Darlington, SC Raceway. It's been this way for years and why that area is not fully monitored daily from morning to night is beyond me. The speed limit from SC to the bridge is 65 mph and then it changes to 55 mph once you cross the Canal Bridge and Savannah River Bridge. It scares me everytime I cross it and get passed by dozens of other vehicles on the bridge. They never slow down going either way. Why ? Why not take down all speed limit signs period. No one pays any attention and sooner and later there will be more and more deaths. A rotation of days to check the speed so that people will start paying attention. A Georgia & SC Patrolman would suffice and a couple times a week (park at bridge on Georgia side and at the bridge on South Carolina side with blue lights flashing during 7-9 am and 5-7 pm) when people realize that they are there, they just might slow down a bit. I'm serious. It's a deadly situation even if one vehicle is involved in a wreck. Also make sure you don't smoke in your vehicle when entering South Carolina with a child under six is in the vehicle. Now just the heck are they going to check this. They can't stop talking on cell phone, texting, drinking, speeding, etc. What I hear all the time is that the police are in business to handle murders, robberies, and other things while more people are getting killed speeding on the roads/streets. Sort of like I say about America, "Wake Up America" with what is going on in the USA with the politicians.

Boston93
117
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Boston93 09/02/11 - 09:58 am
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Another suggestion and this

Another suggestion and this would save money would be to install a permanent set of blue lights on SC side at bridge and Georgis side at bridge. Options to turn on/off based on traffic flow. But, don't rule out putting the patrol cars there occasionally to catch the speeders. Blue lights slow drivers down almost immediately. In my mind, it's a plan that would not be very costly and hopefully once the cars realize the lights and/or policemen are there, things should get safer. Just a thought.

walrus4ever
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walrus4ever 09/02/11 - 10:08 am
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An extremely dangerous

An extremely dangerous stretch that hasnt been improved since it was built in '64. Almost exactly 20 years ago an elderly couple burned to death in their car in the same spot. About as bad as I85 between Atlanta and Anderson.

InChristLove
22459
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InChristLove 09/02/11 - 11:03 am
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Boston93, you suggestion to

Boston93, you suggestion to monitor this area is great but just like Hwy 56 south and every other area, people will slow down as long as the area is being monitored but as soon as they discover the area isn't being monitored any longer, they are back to the speedway. Just yesterday I was heading down Hwy 56 in the area where it was monitored about a month ago (International Paper area) and was passed by four cars like I was sitting still (and I was doing the speed limit). Sad part is this was from Hwy 56 loop to the entrance of Goshen Road. One of the vehicles actually ran the red light at Goshen Road.

whyme
1652
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whyme 09/02/11 - 11:48 am
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Why o why can't folks just

Why o why can't folks just leave their condolences and keep their thoughts on the crash to themselves? Families read these things and don't need to read your opinions on the incident.

proudgunowner
148
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proudgunowner 09/02/11 - 12:08 pm
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I was stopped in the traffic
Unpublished

I was stopped in the traffic last night heading into SC. I was about the 20th vehicle back and rescue vehicles were still arriving and the fire was still burning after I came to a stop. The police did a great job of getting I-20 shut down at Riverwatch and getting cars and then trucks turned around. As for earlier comments, there is nothing to indicate the driver was speeding. It could have been mechanical problems, he could have had a health issue, he could have fallen asleep, he could have swerved to avoid another vehicle, he could have been texting or otherwise distracted. Nobody will probably ever know. My prayers are with his family. I can't imagine getting that call in the middle of the night that a loved one was killed.

TrukinRanger
1748
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TrukinRanger 09/02/11 - 12:08 pm
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I find it hard to believe
Unpublished

I find it hard to believe that after all the improvements made on I-20 from the New I-520 interchange at exit #6, and from the GA State line all the way out to the Grovetown exits were done, but no bridge work at the canal or river. People traveling west on I-20 get to the bridges and usually have to hit their brakes because of the change in speed limits. There shoudl be 3 lanes from I-520 all the way into the new sections in GA. A modern (maybe even decorative) bridge with solid guardrails from start to finish could have saved this man's life. In addition, both welcome centers should take advantage of the river/canal access by setting aside an area where people using bicycles, canoes, kayaks can have access in a park-like setting. At one time I thought that was part of the plan for the area where Costco is being built- is that no longer part of the plan? I think it could give people traveling through Augusta a convenient stop to use the bathroom and take a peek into some of Augusta's underutilized beauty.

proudgunowner
148
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proudgunowner 09/02/11 - 12:11 pm
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After watching the video, I'm
Unpublished

After watching the video, I'm surprised that authorities did not shut down the canal path. I see bikes riding in between the wrecker and the trailer. Seems it would be easier to work without the distractions of gawkers getting that close.

tcowan13
266
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tcowan13 09/02/11 - 12:39 pm
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God Bless This Family In This

God Bless This Family In This Time...

happychimer
16878
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happychimer 09/02/11 - 01:54 pm
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why me I see nothing wrong

why me I see nothing wrong with the comments here. If you don't like anyone posting their opinions here, then don't read them.

dougk
3
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dougk 09/02/11 - 04:12 pm
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Exactly, happychimer. If you
Unpublished

Exactly, happychimer. If you want to read only condolences you're looking in the wrong place. There are other issues surrounding this tragic accident that others have a right to comment on.

cityman
-6
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cityman 09/02/11 - 02:46 pm
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Seems like a simple fix would
Unpublished

Seems like a simple fix would be to set the gas that is on top of the water on fire to get rid of it quickly.

scorehouse
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scorehouse 09/02/11 - 06:26 pm
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bizaar accident. maybe he
Unpublished

bizaar accident. maybe he fell asleep or has an urgent health problem? seems like he never tried or had a chance to steer the truck away from the rail? sad.

scorehouse
196
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scorehouse 09/02/11 - 06:27 pm
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the sunlight will evaporate
Unpublished

the sunlight will evaporate the fuel quickly.

corgimom
31229
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corgimom 09/02/11 - 07:06 pm
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" loaded with lumber struck

" loaded with lumber struck the guard tail and flipped into the canal."

Doesn't seem too respectful to the dead man's family when the AC can't even be bothered to proofread the story reporting his death, now does it?

The guard tail? REALLY.

proudgunowner
148
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proudgunowner 09/02/11 - 07:13 pm
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I don't think that sunlight
Unpublished

I don't think that sunlight will evaporate diesel fuel.....Plus the canal water moves at a quick pace and the oil would reach the water company intake very fast. Great job by all rescue personnel involved to keep this from being worse. By the way, much of the diesel fuel burned off as it was still burning when I arrived on the scene just a few minutes after it happened. I was there before the fire department.....

Little Lamb
45282
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Little Lamb 09/02/11 - 07:20 pm
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Don't worry about drinking a

Don't worry about drinking a little bit of diluted diesel fuel or gasoline. We injest hundreds of petrochemicals into our bodies every day in our medicines and our food.

Boston93
117
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Boston93 09/02/11 - 07:45 pm
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To: InChristLoveFriday, Sep.

To: InChristLoveFriday, Sep. 2 11:03
A agree with you on highway 56 traffic. I rarely go out there, but know what you are referring to. Read about it often. There are several locations around that need to be watched and I picked the river/canal because I drive it several days per week and most drivers are idiots. My theory of the blue lights would possibly help in many areas and they could be moved around. They will never be able to stop all the speeders, but if they could simply slow them down. I rarely speed and have a radar detector just to remind me if/when I get zapped by the police. Everyone is going to speed unconsciously at times, but blue lights bring them back down to earth. In my opinion I would think that they could occasionally put another patrolman further down the road just to let the speeders know that they are being watched. Thanks for your reply.

Animallvr
3
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Animallvr 09/02/11 - 08:18 pm
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My condolences for the

My condolences for the family.

chinnie
0
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chinnie 09/03/11 - 09:35 am
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Our hearts and prayers are

Our hearts and prayers are with his family.... :(

OhioMomma
0
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OhioMomma 09/03/11 - 10:01 am
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Ben Cunningham drove for our

Ben Cunningham drove for our company since 1985....a very safe driver. What ever happened late Thursday night - no one may ever know....Rest in Peace Ben...our prayers will remain with you and your beloved family.

Rolling Eyes
245
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Rolling Eyes 09/03/11 - 01:01 pm
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OhioMomma says that "he was a

OhioMomma says that "he was a very safe driver" which allows me believe that it wasn't inattention causing the wreck. I'm wondering if he could have suffered a medical problem (heart attack/stroke/diabetes) prior to the crash which lead to his loss of control of the rig?

My sympathies to go out to the family during this difficult time.

Cadence
219
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Cadence 09/03/11 - 10:03 pm
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Respectfully, I must agree

Respectfully, I must agree that this is a newspaper not the condolence book. (legacy dot com I think is the usual one). I think I would not read here if something happened to a loved one, or I would be braced for some things that might hurt to hear. Still, my condolences to his family.

Vito45
-2
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Vito45 09/03/11 - 10:05 pm
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Amen Cadence. If I lost a

Amen Cadence. If I lost a loved one, the last thing I would do is log on to see what everyone is saying. That is nonsense.

whyme
1652
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whyme 09/06/11 - 12:56 pm
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Yes, you would think that

Yes, you would think that grieving people have better things to do than read the remarks made on this site, both tasteful as well as insensitive. But they do. (and no, I don't know anyone involved in this case). At the same time, there is a time and place for everything, and simple decency and respect should be applied no matter the forum and no matter who may be reading. Commenting on the accident is one thing, making a judgment call about the driver is another.

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