Originally created 03/24/01

Tanker explosion injures 3



A Savannah River Site engineer took his usual route home from work Friday. He hadn't gone far when he saw thick smoke rising above the trees along South Carolina Highway 125.

Then he saw the burning wreck, and a man on fire.

"It didn't seem real," said Guy Baldwin, 53, of North Augusta.

The gasoline fire borne by a tanker truck explosion injured three people Friday and will probably keep the thoroughfare between Augusta and SRS blocked until early this morning, according to the South Carolina Highway Patrol.

The Mack truck was carrying a load of diesel fuel and gasoline when it overturned on the highway between Beech Island and Jackson about 5:30 p.m., igniting a fire and creating a gray smoke plume that could be seen as far away as Belvedere.

The driver of the truck, Paul Augustine, 45, of Augusta, had crawled from the cab when Mr. Baldwin stopped to help. He and another passer-by pulled Mr. Augustine away from the fire, and helped him roll the flames out of his clothes.

"He just said, `God have mercy,"' Mr. Baldwin said. "Obviously, he was in a lot of pain."

The driver was taken to Doctors Hospital to be treated at its Joseph M. Still Burn Center. He was listed in serious condition late Friday.

Beech Island Firefighter Kyle Ledbetter, 18, was overcome by heat as firefighters from at least eight departments including SRS worked to douse the blaze, Chief Leon Henderson said. Mr. Ledbetter was taken to Medical College of Georgia Hospital, the chief said.

Emergency officials could not identify the third person taken to an area hospital from the wreck site.

The fire was brought under control an hour after the crash, as fire crews smothered the flames with foam. Hazardous materials and South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control teams were also working to clean up the spill of fuel, some of which flowed into a nearby pond.

The crash happened when the southbound tanker truck, owned by Knoxville, Tenn.-based Kenan Transport, edged off the right side of the road, and the driver overcompensated, causing the truck to slide into a grass median and overturn on its side, Highway Patrol Lance Cpl. R.K. Hughes said.

Traffic was routed around the scene while emergency officials worked.

Mr. Baldwin said he and the other rescuer didn't realize the risk they'd taken until afterward, when the driver told them what the truck was carrying. He said he does not consider himself a hero.

"I hope I don't find myself in that situation again," he said.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225.