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Fuel truck fire kills one person, shuts down traffic on I-95 Gold Star Bridge

A fuel tanker truck rollover killed one person and caused a massive fire that closed the Gold Star Bridge in Groton on Friday.
Connecticut State Police
A fuel tanker truck rollover killed one person and caused a massive fire that temporarily closed the Gold Star Bridge in Groton on Friday, April 21, 2023.

A fuel tanker truck crash killed one person and caused a massive fire that temporarily closed the Gold Star Memorial Bridge in Groton on Friday.

The driver has been identified as Wallace Fauquet III, 42, of Stonington.

Several other people sustained injuries but none were life threatening, officials said.

The wreck happened shortly after 11 a.m. when a passenger vehicle blew a tire and came to a stop on the Gold Star Bridge. The fuel truck slammed into the parked car from behind, causing the truck to roll over and erupt into flames that swallowed both vehicles, according to the state police accident report.

The crash happened on the southbound side of the Gold Star Bridge carrying the highway over the Thames River between New London and Groton. The Gold Star actually comprises two bridges, one for southbound traffic and the other for northbound.

The two left southbound lanes reopened Friday evening, the Connecticut Department of Transportation said. The pedestrian crossing will remain closed for now.

Northbound lanes were re-opened early Friday afternoon.

Gov. Ned Lamont said late Friday afternoon the southbound lanes of the bridge would be closed for "an extended period while a structural analysis is conducted."

Social media posts showed massive columns of smoke coming off the bridge.

Officials said the truck spilled about 2,200 gallons of home heating oil, and some of it went into the river. State environmental crews worked to contain the spill.

“This was a tragic accident,” Lamont said. “It looks like a passenger vehicle tire blew out, creating an incident" with the truck, which tipped over, he said. "Billowing smoke, incredible flames, pouring right down through the pipes, spilling out into the Thames River.”

Videos from the scene showed flames burning and smoke rising from a lengthy section of the bridge and spreading to land on the Groton side.

Groton Mayor Keith Hedrick said flaming debris fell from the bridge and caused brush fires below, but no one on the ground there was injured. He also said no buildings caught on fire, conflicting with early reports by state police.

The cause of the accident was under investigation.

The Gold Star Memorial Bridge, Connecticut’s largest passenger and truck bridge at 6,000 feet in length, has been undergoing a major overhaul. In January, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited New London to announce that $158 million from a new federal infrastructure law was being awarded to accelerate repairs on the northbound span.

The state transportation commissioner, Garrett Eucalitto, said it was not immediately clear when the southbound bridge would reopen. He said about 60,000 vehicles a day travel over the spans.

“It’s going to require us to do an extensive look at the steel structure to see when it will be safe to open it,” he said.

Eucalitto added that state Department of Transportation officials were considering whether converting the northbound bridge into two directions was feasible.

Seth Bottone, 48, was leaving work to head home from Groton as he does every day, when he saw the smoke and flames engulfing the bridge. Bottone snapped a video of the flames and was audibly in shock.

“I saw the smoke from a distance, thought it was something from underneath,” he said. “As I got closer, I was like, ‘oh my goodness.’”

Bottone said police then directed traffic to turn around and head northbound.

Angelique Feliciano, 40, had accidentally taken a wrong turn and ended up on the bridge as the fire trucks arrived. Feliciano said she has seen numerous accidents in Groton but nothing like the incident Friday.

“The highway looked like it was on fire itself,” she said. “It was scary. I wanted to get off the bridge as soon as possible.”

This story has been updated. Connecticut Public's Patrick Skahill contributed to this report.

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