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Homes evacuated, flights scrubbed, as sneeze triggers truck accident
Several homes near Outlying Field were evacuated Monday morning and Navy practice flights were postponed after a propane truck rolled over on Highway 20 near the intersection with Welcher Road.
At about 8:20 a.m., a truck filled with approximately 2,500 gallons of propane was southbound on Highway 20 when the driver lost control of the truck, which landed on its side, said Island County Sheriff Mark Brown.
“I spoke with the driver directly. He said he sneezed and drove off the road,” Brown said.
The State Patrol identified the driver as Lonnie H. Shere, 53, of Mount Vernon. The Kenworth truck he was driving was listed as totaled.
Highway 20 near Outlying Field was closed for more than six hours as traffic was detoured around the stretch of road.
The truck, which is operated by Burlington-based Ferrellgas, ended up on its side over a row of bushes and facing northbound Highway 20 near the entrance to Outlying Field.
Debris from the truck, including papers and pieces of its windshield, was strewn through the bushes.
Some of the propane leaked out near the valve, said Sean Merrill, battalion chief with Navy Region Northwest Fire and Rescue Services, which provides emergency hazardous materials services for Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.
He described the amount that escaped from the tank as minimal. Fortunately, the high speed winds buffeting the island Monday morning dissipated the gas.
Several nearby homes and Outlying Field were evacuated because of the accident, Merrill said.
At approximately 12:30 p.m., a second tanker was on scene to transfer the propane out of the wrecked truck, said Kim Martin, spokesperson for NAS Whidbey.
Martin said two Navy people were working at Outlying Field at the time of the accident. Since the two people had the appropriate training, they joined the hazardous materials team when it arrived.
A Navy family currently lives in the house at Outlying Field, but nobody was home at the time of the accident.
Pilots were supposed to practice carrier landings Monday morning. Martin said air operations at Outlying Field were canceled and it will be rescheduled.
Brown said that Shere, the driver of the propane truck, had several lacerations to his face and his eye was swollen shut. He was transported to Whidbey General Hospital where he was treated and released.