A Central Emergency Services firefighter prepares to fight a blaze resulting from an accident at Mile 59 of the Sterling Highway early Saturday morning.
Photo by David LaForest, Central
An accident on the Sterling Highway early Saturday morning near the east entrance to Skilak Lake Loop Road resulted in a one fatality, a tractor trailer going up in flames and hours of gridlock traffic to and from the Seward Highway.
At 5:17 a.m. there was a head-on collision between a silver Pontiac Grand Am and a Carlile Transportation Systems truck pulling two trailers at Mile 59.5 of the Sterling Highway, according to a press release from Alaska State Troopers. The driver of the Pontiac, 22-year-old Amber Zuck, of Sterling, was killed.
“She crossed the center line and slammed into the Carlile semi,” said Megan Peters, public information officer for the troopers.
Mike Medcoff, 56, of Kenai, was driving the truck.
Central Emergency Services responded to the scene at 5:24 a.m. to contended with the crash and what ended up being a 50-by-50-foot wildfire, according to Central Emergency Services Assistant Chief Gordon Orth.
“When we got there, we found a tandem tractor-trailer that had gone through the guard rail and down a 20-foot embankment. The tractor was completely on fire and half of the first trailer,” Orth said.
According to Peters, Medcoff was transported to the hospital, but no injuries were reported. Zuck was not wearing her seat belt and was thrown from her vehicle. She was pronounced dead at the scene by emergency personnel. Alcohol is suspected to be a factor in the collision as an open container of alcohol was found in Zuck’s vehicle.
“Zuck’s body has been transported to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage, and her next of kin has been notified,” Peters said.
According to Orth, the truck was hauling mostly building supplies and car parts, but a hazardous materials cleanup crew was called in by Carlile to contend with vehicle batteries being transported that were on fire, and what he described as a small leak in container holding 3,600 pounds of chlorite a chemical similar to chlorine typically used for bleaching and stripping textiles, pulp and paper, and also for disinfection in municipal water treatment plants.
“(CES) dealt with it as a first responder and the haz-mat crew carried out mitigation. The chlorite did not burn it’s more of a corrosive but the container it was in burned, so we had a leak, but not a substantial one,” Orth said.
CES had the fire completely out by 1:30 p.m. During that time and subsequent cleanup efforts for the hazardous materials, all noncommercial vehicle traffic was detoured to Skilak Lake Loop Road, while larger trucks and RVs were turned around.
Another fire at Hidden Lake campground off Skilak Lake Loop Road compounded the difficult driving situation.
“We were dispatched to a Ford 350 four-door, with a cab-over camper that was fully engulfed,” Orth said.
Orth said the owner of the vehicle reported it had stalled after he had unloaded his boat into the lake, so he made the decision to go fishing and deal with the vehicle later. While he was gone the fire began.
“It’s undetermined what the cause of the fire was. Possibly electrical, but there was so much destruction it was difficult to say for certain,” Orth said.
The Sterling Highway was reopened to traffic around 4 p.m.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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