Report: Family Identifies Truck Driver in Fiery Wreck That Closed I-95 in Philadelphia

This image provided by the Office of Emergency Management shows firefighters standing near the collapsed part of I-95 in Philadelphia, Sunday, June 11, 2023. The elevated section of Interstate 95 has collapsed early Sunday after a vehicle caught fire, closing the main north-south highway on the East Coast and threatening to upend travel in parts of the densely populated Northeast. (Office of Emergency Management via AP)

By Associated Press

June 13, 2023

Officials say the driver lost control of a gas-filled tanker before fire collapsed a section of the East Coast’s main highway.

PHILADELPHIA — The driver of a tractor-trailer hauling gasoline lost control on an off-ramp and flipped the tanker truck on its side in a wreck that set it on fire and destroyed a section of I-95, Pennsylvania’s top transportation official said Monday.

In the first official accounting of a wreck that threw hundreds of thousands of morning commutes on the East Coast’s main north-south highway into chaos and disrupted untold numbers of businesses, state Transportation Secretary Mike Carroll said the driver was northbound “trying to navigate the curve, lost control of the vehicle, landed on its side and ruptured the tank.”

Pennsylvania State Police said a body was turned over to the Philadelphia medical examiner and coroner, but did not identify the remains or respond when asked if they belonged to the driver.

According to NBC-10 in Philadelphia, family members identified the driver as Nathaniel “Nate” Moody. They told the station that Moody, 53, was a father of three and an Army veteran with a spotless driving record. 

Moody had been responsible for delivering gasoline to area Wawa gas stations.

The section of I-95 in the northeast section of the city will be closed in both directions for weeks as the summer travel season kicks into high gear. The elevated southbound portion will have to be demolished, as well as the northbound side, Carroll said. 

The accident also disrupted the automotive route from Canada to Florida through the Boston, New York and Washington metropolitan areas, increasing Americans’ dependence on air travel and on the interstate rail network.

Videos shared on social media showed a number of close calls around the accident, with people driving through the area as flames licked upward from the fire below.

The National Transportation Safety Board was on the scene Sunday night. Federal investigators have been collecting information about the truck and talking with the company and emergency responders in order to understand the sequence of events. They are expected to make a preliminary report within weeks.

The damaged I-95 segment carries about 160,000 vehicles daily, Carroll said. State police don’t know if the driver was speeding, and no other vehicle has been found. Officials said they had been in contact with the trucking company, but they did not identify it.

Carroll said the highway span was 10 to 12 years old, had appeared sound, and officials blamed the damage on the heat of the fire, which took about an hour to control.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) signed a disaster declaration Monday, saying it gives state agencies the ability to skip normal bidding-and-contracting requirements so the span can be repaired faster.

He said a flight he took over the area showed “just remarkable devastation.”

Shapiro said the complete rebuild of I-95 would take “some number of months,” and in the meantime officials were looking at “interim solutions to reconnect I-95 and get traffic through the area.”

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited the site Tuesday, and promised Tuesday to help repair the East Coast’s main north-south highway as quickly as possible and said that the destruction of a section of I-95 will likely raise shipping costs because truckers must now travel longer routes.

Buttigieg toured the site and then, over the sounds of heavy machinery and demolition, told reporters that “every resource that is needed will be made available” to help Pennsylvania repair the bridge as quickly and safely as possible.

Buttigieg said he had not seen any sort of estimate of cost increases for shipping, but said the industry is working to make the most of alternative routes. He also suggested that the U.S. Department of Transportation is working with route-selecting software firms such as Google and Waze to optimize their products.

“At the end of the day, there’s no substitute for I-95 being up and running in full working condition,” Buttigieg said.

Of the 160,000 vehicles a day that travel that section, 8% are trucks and “obviously that is a lot of America’s GDP moving along that road every single day,” Buttigieg said.

Both the city and PennDOT are providing online updates on detour information.

As of Monday, the following detours were in place:

Highway

  • I-95 Southbound: Route 63 West (Woodhaven Road), U.S. 1 South, 76 East, 676 East
  • I-95 Northbound: I-676 West, I-76 West, U.S. 1 North to Route 63 East (Woodhaven Road) 

Local Detour Routes

  • I-95 Northbound: Exit 26 (Betsy Ross/Aramingo Ave), Tacony Street, New State Road, Milnor Street, Bleigh Avenue, and Linden Avenue to access I-95 North.
  • I-95 Southbound: Cottman Avenue exit, Bleigh Avenue, and State Road to access SB 95 at Longshore Ave. 

SEPTA said it was operating three extra morning and late afternoon trains on its Trenton line, and adding capacity to regularly scheduled lines during peak hours “to help support the city and region’s travel needs” following the collapse.

The collapsed section of I-95 was part of a $212 million reconstruction project that wrapped up four years ago, state Transportation Department spokesman Brad Rudolph said. PennDOT rated the 104-foot span as in “good” condition earlier this year, with another inspection set for 2025.

Keystone senior community manager Patrick Berkery contributed to this report.

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