5 who died from ammonia exposure after semi crash near Teutopolis ID'd by medical examiner

Attempt to pass a tanker may have led to the deadly chemical crash in Illinois, official says

Michelle Gallardo Image
Monday, October 2, 2023
5 dead after semi crash causes ammonia leak, prompts evacuation
Two kids are among five people dead after a semi crash, which caused an anhydrous ammonia leak and prompted a Teutopolis evacuation.

TEUTOPOLIS, Ill. (WLS) -- Authorities resumed their investigation Sunday of a central Illinois truck crash that killed five people, injured seven others and prompted an evacuation for hundreds of residents on Friday night.

Effingham County Coroner Kim Rhodes said the five dead included three from the same family: one adult and two children. The other two were adult motorists from out of state, Rhodes said.

Their names were released on Sunday:

  • Danny J. Smith, 67, from New Haven, Mo.
  • Vasile Cricovan, 31, from Twinsburg, Ohio
  • Kenneth Bryan, 34, from Teutopolis, Ill.
  • Rosie Bryan, 7, from Beecher City, Ill.
  • Walker Bryan, 10, from Beecher City, Ill.

Preliminary investigation shows all five victims died from exposure to the ammonia, the coroner's office said. Autopsies are scheduled for Monday.

Seven other people were hospitalized.

Officials from the NTSB released new details at a Sunday afternoon press conference on exactly how the crash happened.

Authorities conducted preliminary investigation into both the crash site and of the ammonia-carrying tanker, which is said to belong to Prairieland Transport Limited.

The crash and ensuing leak appears to have happened as a result of the tanker's driver attempting to avoid a nearby vehicle while traveling westbound on U.S. Highway 40 at about 9:25 p.m. Friday.

"Preliminary information indicates that another vehicle may have been involved in a passing maneuver near the tanker truck. The driver of the tanker truck appears to have reacted by pulling to the right. The tanker truck departed the roadway. After it departed the roadway, the tanker truck rolled over, and the tank was compromised," said National Transportation Safety Board Tom Chapman.

A team of federal investigators arrived in downstate Tuetopolis on Saturday night. The tanker truck was drained and moved to a "secure location" for a NTSB investigation.

Approximately 4,000 of the tanker's 7,500 gallons of ammonia were released as a result of the collision. About 500 residents within a 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) radius of the crash site were evacuated after the accident, including northeastern parts of Teutopolis.

The crash caused "a large plume, cloud of anhydrous ammonia on the roadway that caused terribly dangerous air conditions in the northeast area of Teutopolis," Effingham County Sheriff Paul Kuhns said at a Saturday morning news conference.. "Because of these conditions, the emergency responders had to wait. They had to mitigate the conditions before they could really get to work on it, and it was a fairly large area."

Although not strong, crews working overnight struggled against shifting wind.

"The wind changed three or four different times on us," said Tim McMahon, chief of the Teutopolis Fire Protection District. "That's another reason we got crews out in different places, reporting back on which way the wind's going."

Traffic, including the tanker, was pushed onto U.S. 40 earlier Friday because of another truck crash on Interstate 70.

Phillip Hartke, 75, who lives in Teutopolis but farms with his son outside of town, said U.S. 40 was jammed after the I-70 closure. Hartke finished harvesting corn about 9:30 p.m. Driving home, as he neared the center of town, he could smell anhydrous ammonia. When he reached U.S. 40, emergency vehicles swarmed the area.

"Firefighters advised us right there: 'Evacuate to the west,'" Hartke said.

Hartke estimated 85% of Teutopolis was subject to the evacuation. He and his wife were staying with his son. Such familial ties should serve most evacuees well.

"'T-Town' is a tight-knit community," Hartke said. "Many people have sons and daughters, aunts and uncles within five or six miles of town."

Anhydrous ammonia is used by farmers to add nitrogen fertilizer to the soil and as a refrigerant in the cooling systems of large buildings such as warehouses and factories. According to the American Chemical Society, it is carried around the United States by pipeline, trucks and trains.

Emergency crews worked overnight after the accident on Friday trying to control the plume from the leak and struggled to get near the crash site, and residents were allowed to return to their homes late Saturday.

The NTSB's investigation now centers around the cargo tank's crash-worthiness and the routing of the hazardous materials.

The NTSB's preliminary report on the crash is expected within 30 days. The full report could take up to two years to wrap up.

Names of the victims are expected to be released by the Effingham County coroner Sunday afternoon.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.