KNOX, Maine — A Montville man was critically injured Monday when he pulled his car into the path of a tractor-trailer hauling a tankerload of caustic soda and was struck broadside. The truck rolled onto its side but emergency crews were able to prevent its cargo from spilling into a nearby stream.
William Mathieson, 28, of Montville was rushed by ambulance to Waldo County General Hospital, where he was stabilized, and then transferred to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor with head and internal injuries.
The truck driver, Raymond Pottle, 51, of Carmel also was taken to WCGH complaining of rib pain.
Pottle was carrying 4,975 gallons of sodium hydroxide from the General Alum Corp. chemical plant in Searsport to the Sappi paper mill in Skowhegan. Pottle’s Freightliner was coming down a long hill on Route 137 at 10:53 a.m. Monday when the 1995 Lincoln Town Car operated by Mathieson pulled directly into his path from Webb Road.
The truck hit the car on the driver’s side, pushed it off the road and onto its side, and continued until it came to rest against a stand of trees on the bank of Half Moon Stream. Pottle was able to climb from the truck’s cab, but Mathieson was trapped inside his car. Skid marks on the road surface indicated Pottle attempted to avoid the collision.
Waldo County Deputy Sheriff Scott Jones said that when he arrived at the scene Mathieson was still in the car and having difficulty breathing.
Route 137 was closed from the Hilltop Store at the junction with Route 220 to Morse Road in Knox for more than four hours while the accident scene was secured and the wrecks removed.
Emergency responders with Brooks Ambulance removed Mathieson from his car and rushed him to the Belfast hospital with a police escort. The responders had wanted to use LifeFlight to take the injured man to Bangor, but the foggy weather kept the helicopter on the ground.
Emergency crews from area fire departments rushed to prevent the truck’s cargo, which was in a 50 percent solution, from spilling into the stream. The truck’s tank had a slight rupture and sandbags were used to contain the spill. The sodium hydroxide was pumped into the tank of a backup truck sent from Searsport.
Peter Blanchard of the Department of Environmental Protection said in a press release that fewer than 20 gallons of sodium hydroxide leaked from the tanker and there was no evidence that the chemical made its way to Half Moon Stream.
Blanchard said small amounts of gasoline from the car and diesel fuel from the truck spilled onto the roadway as a result of the accident.
Cleanup crews at the scene placed a boom in the stream to contain any fuel that might find its way there.
Sodium hydroxide, which is commonly known as caustic soda or lye, is used in papermaking and other industrial chemical processes, according to the DEP release and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Web site. It is highly corrosive to animal and plant tissue and can cause severe injury if it comes in contact with skin. Runoff can cause pollution.
Approximately 40 firefighters from the Knox, Montville, Freedom, Brooks, Frankfort and West Frankfort fire departments provided assistance. Hazardous-materials teams from Knox and Waldo counties, technicians from the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Transportation and Maine State Police commercial vehicle division also rushed to the scene.
Fire engines stood at the ready while the DEP team directed the General Alum employees transferring the caustic soda from one truck to another.
A state police reconstruction team was called in to map the accident scene, Jones said. Deputies Merl Reed and Glen Graef also assisted at the crash scene.
The accident is under investigation by state police and the Sheriff’s Department.