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Semi truck overturns, spills oil over I-5; driver arrested for DUI

A tanker hauling used motor oil overturned on northbound I-5 in Centralia July 3, 2019. (Washington State Patrol)

A semi-truck hauling used motor oil overturned on I-5 Wednesday morning at the Lewis-Thurston County line, spilling the oil across the freeway.

The incident will likely snarl traffic plans for drivers heading north on I-5, especially around the holiday with events planned in the area Wednesday and Thursday night. As of 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, the 2 northbound lanes of I-5 were reopened.

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“A lot of folks take the day before a holiday off, especially with it so close to the weekend and with the Fourth of July,” said Trooper Will Finn with the Washington State Patrol. “It’s unfortunate that folks are stranded because of this poor decision for someone to drive impaired down the roadway, creating this massive traffic issue for the region.”

Washington State Patrol received calls about the overturned tanker shortly before 4:30 a.m. All lanes of northbound I-5 have been closed near Centralia. There is a traffic detour at exit 82. There is no estimated time for reopening the freeway. Trooper Finn says this will be an “all day event” due to the oil spilling on the freeway.

The tanker was holding approximately 4,000 gallons of used motor oil. It was leaking oil from an 8-inch gash between 4:30-7:40 a.m. About 1,800 gallons is estimated to have spilled onto the road. Because drivers passed through that spilled oil earlier, spreading it further down the road, there is now approximately three miles of roadway to clean up.

“It’s a double tanker, so the holding tank on the back end, the second one trailing behind, has overturned and that is the one that is leaking,” Finn said. “… We haven’t lost all the product inside there, but a significant amount, enough to trigger a phone call the Department of Ecology and also a hazmat team has arrived to help with cleanup efforts.”

No other vehicles were involved in the crash. Trooper Finn says that there are signs the driver was operating the truck in an unsafe manner as it traveled down the freeway.

“Fortunately the driver of the tanker truck was uninjured,” Finn said. “Unfortunately for him, the investigation with the trooper has gone down a different road, and he is suspected for driving while impaired and has been arrested for DUI … he has been taken into custody and an investigation for impairment has begun.”

Trooper Finn recommends that people planning to travel north on I-5, especially for the Fourth of July holiday, should delay those plans until the road reopens. The work to clean up the freeway could last through the afternoon and possibly into Wednesday evening. A seven mile backup formed behind the site Wednesday morning as crews tended to the scene.

“This is not something we can get cleaned up in a couple hours,” Finn said. “They are going to be out there the majority of the day … we have no ETA on when the lanes will open again.”

“We are still gathering resources, trying to get that leak to stop,” he said “We got to get the tanker out of there. Once the tanker is out of there, we can start the process of cleaning off the roadway and making sure it is safe for motorists to travel through the area. With a product like this, it’s going to be extremely slick conditions out there.”

There are a few Fourth of July celebrations occurring north of the crash site over the next two nights, drawing crowds from throughout the region. Centralia has a fireworks show at 10 p.m. Thursday.

Tumwater has a fireworks show Thursday evening as well. The South Sound Speedway just north of the crash site has an event with a fireworks show Wednesday evening. The city of Lacey also has a July 3rd fireworks show Wednesday night.

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