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Tanker flips, spills fuel on interstate

A fuel tanker driver rolled over "rumble strips" on Interstate 75, tried to right his rig and flipped over, causing the shutdown of the highway for eight hours Monday morning.

The Florida Highway Patrol diverted traffic onto State Road 50 from the north and Pasco County Road 41 from the south as 20 members of Hernando County's hazardous materials response team tried to mop up the 6,500 gallons of fuel that spilled into nearby storm drains.

At about 3:40 a.m., Christopher D. Robinson, 29, of Tampa, was driving north in the left lane when he rolled over the rumble strips _ small indentations in the roadway designed to rouse motorists if they fall asleep at the wheel.

As Robinson's truck veered onto the center median, he tried to steer it back onto the pavement but lost control, according to a report from FHP.

The 2000 Peterbilt semitrailer truck flipped on its side and skidded about 250 yards before coming to a stop along the grassy median and left lanes, the report said.

Robinson was taken to Dade City Hospital for injuries he sustained in the crash. Authorities said Robinson was wearing his seat belt during the accident, but they did not provide details on his condition.

They were also unable to say if Robinson had momentarily fallen asleep at the wheel. However, the report indicated that depending on the outcome of the investigation, charges may be filed.

FHP Lt. Harold Frear said the truck, which was carrying about 6,500 gallons of unleaded gasoline and 2,000 gallons of diesel, did not completely spill its contents onto the roadway. Authorities closed the interstate in both directions while hazardous materials workers tried to contain the spill.

Since the crash occurred in a rural, sparsely populated section of the county, no homes were evacuated, said Brenda Frazier, a spokeswoman for Hernando County.

"It was very critical because of the magnitude of the spill," Frazier said. "The combination of diesel and gas made it pretty dangerous."

Meanwhile, as officials from the FHP, the Department of Transportation and Hernando Sheriff's Office stationed themselves along SR 50 diverting traffic and answering motorists' questions, Annamarie LaTourette, 62, of Ocala, pulled her blue sport utility vehicle into the parking lot of the nearby Chevron gas station.

Searching the map for an alternate route, LaTourette said that her job interview in Tampa ran a little late, but she was hoping to get home for a second appointment, for which she was already late.

"I am glad I called ahead of time," LaTourette said. "It made me think I should have watched the news before I left."

By 12:30 p.m., authorities reopened the southbound lanes of traffic and 15 minutes later partially opened the northbound lanes as hazardous materials workers finished the cleanup and officials removed the wreckage from the roadway.

_ Duane Bourne can be reached at (352) 754-6114. Send e-mail to dbournesptimes.com.

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