A fatal truck crash west of Melrose shut down the BNSF railroad and Highway 60/84 for hours on Wednesday while hazardous materials crews worked to remove pressurized gas cylinders containing flammable gases.
During the cleanup, officers narrowly averted a second crash when a Ford F-150 pickup truck containing 18 people nearly hit De Baca County Deputy Michael Mussman. After flagging the pickup down, deputies turned all 18 occupants of the pickup over to the Border Patrol on suspicion of being illegal aliens.
According to the New Mexico State Police, William Edward Paul, 60, of Scottsboro, Ala., died as a result of injuries sustained in the crash. Carlos Inejos, 43, of Albuquerque, was seriously injured, transported to Plains Regional Medical Center of Clovis, and later transported by air ambulance to an undetermined Lubbock hospital. Calls to Lubbock hospitals could not immediately determine where he was a patient.
New Mexico State Police Lt. Jimmy K. Glascock reported the crash happened about 5:10 a.m. near mile post 346.5, which is a half-mile from the small town of Tolar. Glascock said Paul was westbound in a 2001 Volvo semi-truck carrying donut boxes and Inejos was eastbound in a 2000 Volvo semi with the gas containers, including compressed air, oxygen, acetylene and helium.
“The investigation led officers to believe the westbound truck crossed the center line and the two trucks collided left front to left front in a partial head-on collision,” Glascock said. “It was later determined the cylinders that were leaking only contained air; however, 30 other canisters containing flammable gases may have been damaged during the collision.”
“It was quite a massive operation to get them all removed because they had to call cranes and a lot of specialized vehicles to get it removed,” De Baca County Sheriff Gary Graves said. “They’ve had us doing traffic control for about 12 hours.”
Chief Juan Chavez of the Fort Sumner Fire Department said his unit was first on the scene about 5:35 a.m. and stayed until the road was re-opened about 5:15 p.m.
“The first thing we did was to treat the injured and got the most critical of the two en route to Clovis and requested Melrose to send a second ambulance out for the second patient,” Chavez said. “Because we could hear the leaking gases we shut the highway and the railroad down. The railroad was shut down about three hours and the road was shut down on and off for about 12 hours.”
Chavez said Paul was still alive when the Fort Sumner personnel arrived but was pronounced dead by a Clovis medical examiner after leaving the scene.