- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

Two separate accidents on key roadways halted traffic into the District’s Northeast quadrant yesterday morning, confounding thousands of drivers in delays that stretched into the evening commute.

“You couldn’t have picked a worse place to have two [accidents] at the same time,” said John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA-Mid Atlantic. “You needed a navigational system to make it to work [in the] morning.”

Roughly 200,000 vehicles travel along Interstate 295 and Route 50 each day, according to the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) — and yesterday morning, many of those cars and trucks were at a standstill.

About 7:30 a.m., a carjacked truck being chased by Prince George’s County police crashed into several cars on New York Avenue Northeast, forcing the closure of westbound Route 50 for more than three hours.

Nearly an hour later, a tanker truck rear-ended a tractor-trailer and burst into flames on northbound Kenilworth Avenue near Eastern Avenue, forcing the closure of Interstate 295 in the District for most of the day.

Miles of vehicles lined the roadways for hours into the late afternoon as authorities sorted through the debris and worked to clear the streets.

Lisa Baden, traffic reporter for WTOP Radio and WJLA-TV (Channel 7), said the timing and proximity of the two accidents “choked Northeast.”

Making matters worse, a six-car collision on Route 50 near Route 704 contributed to an already snarled afternoon drive. Maryland State Police said the accident happened at about 5:30 p.m., and crews blocked two lanes to remove debris. No injuries were reported and the scene was cleared by 6:19 a.m.

In the carjacking, Prince George’s County police began chasing a black 2005 Dodge Dakota about 7:10 a.m. Cpl. Debbi Carlson, a police spokeswoman, said an officer saw four persons sleeping in the truck in the 6800 block of Randolph Street in the Landover Hills area.

When the officer scanned the truck’s license plate, he learned it had been carjacked and the suspects fled, taking Landover Road to Route 50, which becomes New York Avenue at the D.C. line.

The truck entered the District about 7:30 a.m. and crashed into several vehicles at New York and Bladensburg Road, Metropolitan Police said.

Police arrested driver Travis Floyd, 18, of Landover; Jahmai Gayles, 20, of Hyattsville; Reginald Campbell, 20, of Landover; and a 14-year-old boy from Maryland. They were charged with unauthorized use of a vehicle.

D.C. police spokesman Sgt. Joe Gentile said all four were evaluated at a hospital for injuries and released into police custody.

A man in one of the vehicles struck in the crash complained of neck and back injuries and was taken to a hospital for examination, Sgt. Gentile said.

The initial carjacking report was filed by the Bladensburg Police Department. Bladensburg Police detective Tracy Stone said officers took the report for an armed carjacking 2:30 a.m. May 29 in the 4100 block of Baltimore Avenue.

The tanker-truck crash happened at 8:21 a.m. after the driver of a tractor-trailer slowed down to ensure that his truck would meet the height requirement at the Eastern Avenue overpass on northbound Kenilworth Avenue, officials said.

The 8,300-gallon tanker, owned by Alexandria-based Fannon Petroleum Services Inc., rear-ended the tractor-trailer and veered into a jersey wall before its cab burst into flames.

The crash technically occurred in the District. Prince George’s County Fire Department spokesman Mark Brady said firefighters responding to a fire in a teacher administrative area at Fairmont Heights High School in Capitol Heights responded to the scene.

“We noticed a large column of thick, black smoke rising above the tree line,” Mr. Brady said.

Prince George’s firefighters used hoses to put out the blaze from the raised roads above the crash, while D.C. firefighters approached the fire on the ground from the south.

Mr. Brady said the only people involved in the accident were the drivers of the two trucks.

Tanker driver Stanley Bowler, 46, of Ashburn, Va., was treated for minor burns and bruises at the Washington Hospital Center. He was given notice of infraction for following too closely.

Tractor-trailer driver Aaron Baker, 30, of Fort Madison, Iowa, was uninjured. He was driving for a transport company based in Keokuk, Iowa.

“Very quick thinking and a lot of brave firefighters with hose lines made a very aggressive attack on this fire to keep it from becoming involved with the fuel product,” Mr. Brady said.

About 100 gallons of diesel fuel spilled onto the roadway, D.C. fire department spokesman Alan Etter said.

Mr. Brady said the fuel came from the tanker truck’s saddle tanks, which are used to fuel the truck, not from the 8,300-gallon tank.

A label on the tanker said it was carrying gasoline, but fire officials later determined that it was carrying diesel fuel — a much less dangerous substance.

“If that had been gasoline, there’d be a crater in the road right now,” Mr. Etter said.

Regional transportation officials closed I-295 north from the 11th Street Bridge to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and south from Route 50 to Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue until about 4:35 p.m. to clean up the spill and transfer fuel to a new tanker.

The exit ramp southbound from Route 50 onto Eastern Avenue remained closed until 5 p.m.

Backups stretched on I-295 south over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to Powder Mill Road.

“Once you close two major [arteries] like that, traffic is going to be backed up,” said Karyn LeBlanc, a District Department of Transportation spokeswoman. “The initial backups caused by New York Avenue were then exacerbated by the close-up of 295.”

State highway officials helped D.C. officials detour traffic off Kenilworth Avenue and onto New York Avenue.

“That’s a good detour route through there because they have plenty of cross routes, plenty of places for cars to go,” said Chuck Gischlar, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration. “If the accident had been in Maryland, we would’ve used the same route.”

Amy Doolittle and Matthew Cella contributed to this report.

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