Ybor City was spared what could have been a catastrophic incident in the early morning of April 14, but some residents fear it might only be a matter of time before the district's luck runs out.
A semi-truck with a fully loaded fuel tanker crashed into a Ford Expedition on 22nd Street at 1:38 a.m., according to the Tampa Police Department.
The Expedition was pushed into a TECO pole that snapped off between Fourth and Fifth avenues. The tanker then downed a TECO pole near Fifth Avenue. Live wires lay across the truck as fuel leaked from the rig's gas tank.
No one suffered life-threatening injuries, the tanker was not compromised, Tampa Fire Rescue and TECO secured the scene, and no historic buildings were damaged.
Still, longtime Ybor resident Fran Costantino said, the city "won't be satisfied until a tanker blows up in the middle of our historic district and our beloved Ybor."
Her anger is fueled by the fact that commercial trucks, which have been banned since December 2016 from driving through historic Ybor on 21st and 22nd streets, continue to travel those roads and endanger the district anyway.
The latest crash has fueled debate over whether the city is doing enough to prevent commercial trucks from driving those streets.
"The volume of semi-tractor trailer trucks seems to have decreased," said Jeff Houck, a spokesperson for the Columbia Restaurant Group.
The Richard Gonzmart-owned company is building the Italian restaurant Casa Santo Stefano inside the historic Ferlita Macaroni Factory at 1607 N. 22nd St.
That structure was hit — but not damaged — by the TECO pole dislodged by the fuel tanker.
"There’s been some enforcement," Houck said. "But given the volume, it would be unlikely to get to 100 percent."
Still, on Gonzmart's Facebook post about the accident, some disagreed with the company statement.
"Apparently it is still not resolved," wrote Jayme Kosar, a former Ybor City Development Corporation board member. "This is very upsetting to hear for the safety of our businesses and our residents. Something more needs to be done."
Unless it is necessary in order to make deliveries, the city bans commercial trucks on 21st Street from Adamo Drive to 23rd Avenue, and on 22nd Street from Adamo Drive to Hillsborough Avenue
Additionally, commercial trucks are banned on Fourth Avenue between Channelside Drive and 22nd Street, and on Seventh Avenue from 22nd to 34th streets.
City council signed the ban to alleviate traffic and to protect historic buildings from both accidents and the vibrations caused by commercial trucks that could damage the surrounding century-old brick structures.
The change was made possible by the 2014 opening of the connector between Interstate 4 and the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway that provides commercial trucks a route to and from the port without passing through Ybor.
From 2012 to 2016, there were 75 total crashes on those stretches of 21st and 22nd streets — an average of 15 a year, according to TPD.
There were seven crashes there in both 2017 and 2018.
One crash in 2017 occurred when a cement truck overturned at 21st Street and Seventh Avenue, collided with a HART bus and then glanced off the Columbia Restaurant building, causing minimal damage, spokesperson Houck said.
Enforcement “will continue to be of importance," Columbia's Houck said, "since some trucks obviously ignore the restriction daily."
Signs on I-4 and the expressway and on the surrounding neighborhood streets warn trucks not to enter the designated area.
Throughout the year, TPD places officers on special assignment along 21st and 22nd streets.
In 2018, TPD issued 17 citations and 22 warnings to commercial truck drivers.
Due to these efforts, today, traffic control doesn't consider commercial trucks on that stretch of Ybor "to be a major problem," TPD spokesperson Stephen Hegarty said.
Jason Woody, CEO of the nonprofit Lions Eye Institute, located inside the historic F. Lozano & Sons cigar factory at 1410 N 21st St., agrees with that sentiment.
"Overall the truck traffic has gotten much better," Woody said. "The semi noise, coupled with the vibrations in the historic side of the building, have definitely decreased with the restrictions. We still have the occasional accident at the intersection, but that is due to driver negligence."
Still, on the Sunday of the fuel tanker crash, some expressed a different opinion on Ybor resident Costantino's Facebook page.
We "need to stop all trucks," wrote Mark Bias.
"Perhaps DOT can put up better signage warning," wrote Nick Manali.
Penalties for trucks driving on the banned Ybor roads are $150 for a first offense, $300 for a second offense and $450 for subsequent offenses.
The fuel tanker's driver, Samuel Otoo who works for D&B Trucking, according to the TPD, crashed because of a "medical episode." He was not ticketed, possibly because he was allowed on that road because he was making a delivery, TPD's Hegarty said, or because of the medical episode.
Costantino said fines "should be so steep" that drivers are discouraged from "traveling through our historic district."
She also suggests that city council approve fining the company that employs the at-fault driver.
"Hopefully," Costantino said, "that will hurt them enough financially that it will become a detriment" to drive those roads.
Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] or follow @PGuzzoTimes.