Gas tanker overturns in Niles, killing driver

Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT Firefighters from six different departments work to clean up the scene of a deadly semi-tractor tanker rollover crash in Cass County Thursday morning. The tanker is shown flipped on its side off of M-60 in Howard Township.

Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT
Firefighters from six different departments work to clean up the scene of a deadly semi-tractor tanker rollover crash in Cass County Thursday morning. The tanker is shown flipped on its side off of M-60 in Howard Township.

A Berrien County man died when the semi-tractor tanker he was driving crashed on M-60 in Howard Township early Thursday morning, spilling thousands of gallons of gasoline at the accident site.

Charles Edwards, 60, of Berrien Springs, was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Cass County Sheriff’s Department reported that the accident occurred at approximately 2:52 a.m. near the intersection of M-60 and Pine Lake Street.

For an unknown reason, Edwards’ vehicle left the roadway and overturned. When the tanker came to a rest on its side, gasoline from the 10,000 gallon tanker began to leak out.

Howard Township Fire Department crews were the first to arrive on the scene along with the Southwestern Michigan Community Ambulance Service.

When it was learned that gasoline was leaking from the tanker, authorities prioritized making the scene as safe as possible while members of the Cass County Sheriff’s Department helped evacuate residents from nearby homes.

Firefighters were seen covering the area with foam to decrease the likelihood of a fire.

The road surrounding the accident was closed for several hours as crews worked to remove gasoline from the tanker and then remove the semi tanker.

Because of the fuel spill, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was called to the scene.

Nate Whitmyer, of the MDEQ, said it is too soon to know how far into the ground the fuel has gone and if ground water has been contaminated. He said he was told about half of the tanker’s 10,000 gallons of gasoline leaked out.

Whitmyer said he is working with the environmental contractor for Brenner Oil Company — the company that is responsible for the crash — as they test for any contamination.

Whitmyer said he hopes to know more by early next week, depending on how soon the environmental contractor can get equipment to the site to perform testing.

“During that process, if they find it has made it to the ground water one way or another we will make sure the residents in that area will get their wells tested,” he said.

In the meantime, Whitmyer advises residents close to the accident site to use caution when using well water. If anyone notices odors in the water, Whitmyer said they should contact MDEQ by phone at (269) 567-3500.

A creek that flows into Mudd Lake runs through the area where the accident occurred.

Whitmyer said at this time no fuel has reached the creek.

All totaled, the Howard Township Fire Department received assistance from five area fire departments, including Cassopolis, Niles Township, Edwardsburg, Pokagon Township, and Clay Township out of Indiana.

The Michigan State Police Niles Post and Michigan Department of Transportation also provided assistance.

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