(WISH) — The president of the company with the tanker involved in Thursday’s fiery crash at an interstate interchange said the hours since have been emotional.
“This is probably the most tragic event we’ve had happen in 38 years, undoubtedly,” said Brian Guiducci, president of Zionsville-based Jet Star.
The tanker driver is an Air Force veteran known by friends as “Duke.” Jeffrey Denman, 59, of Brownsburg, was delivering jet fuel, Guiducci said, when the crash happened on a ramp from northbound I-465 to I-70 on the city’s east side. Guiducci said Denman moved to Indiana from Texas and has worked as a driver for Jet Star since July.
“He’s a supernice guy. Very soft-spoken. Very quiet. Very meticulous and particular. Always smiling. Everybody likes it when he comes in the office,” the Jet Star president said.
Messages of love have come in from as far away as Florida, Arizona, and even Canada. “What I like about it best is it’s all been positive support and prayers for Jeff, for ‘Duke,’ our driver, and that’s most important to us,” Guiducci said.
Guiducci saw Denman on Friday morning at a hospital. The Jet Star president said everybody at the small company is anxious for answers and worried about Denman. Guiducci said he knows his driver has a long, very difficult road ahead.
“We’re really concerned for him. We’re going to be here for him throughout this deal. It’s going to be a little bit of a rough road ahead for everybody, ” Guiducci said.
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Marion County’s dispatch center on Friday shared 911 calls on the crash.
“We felt the house shake we heard our house shake,” one caller said. “And we’re about … we’re more than a block away.”
“There’s a fire and it’s blazing and something just blew up!” another caller said. “There’s a bunch of black smoke and flames everywhere. Yeah, it shook the building then it exploded. Whatever it was exploded.”
“And it looked like a truck exploded,” another caller said. “There’s a major fire and major smoke. You can’t miss it.”
Road damage assessment
Despite the large fireball and the exploding jet fuel, very little damage was done to the structure of the bridge, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation.
“So we were actually surprised at how little damage there was,” INDOT spokeswoman Mallory Duncan said Friday. “There was no structural … no major structural damage that we found last night.”
The worst damage came from the truck hitting a guardrail. INDOT moved the bridge down to one lane and worked for several hours repairing the rail Friday.
“The truck bent over the guardrail, and some barrier wall repair,” Duncan said. “So that is our biggest deal right now.”
Even after the guardrail is fixed, the lanes won’t open back up. INDOT has concerns about friction, so they want to spend a couple of days making sure no one will slide off the road. But even with that, INDOT wants drivers to know there shouldn’t be any worries about taking the bridge.
“No one should be concerned,” Duncan said. “We did inspect under it. We had a bridge inspector go up and actually look under the bridge for structure issues.”
INDOT says guardrail work should finish up Friday night. No timeline has been set to reopen the ramp to two lanes.
Jet Star statistics
According to the Department of Transportation, in the 24 months leading up to Thursday, 7.4% of Jet Star random vehicle inspections resulted in a vehicle placed out of service. The national average is 20.72%.
In random Jet Star driver inspections, 2.6% resulted in a driver placed out of service. National average is 5.51%.
In the past 24 months prior to Thursday, Jet Star has reported four crashes where a vehicle had to be towed, a single crash involving injuries, and no fatal crashes.