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Police and fire

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Waste containers rest in a field Wednesday near the site of Tuesday’s crash in Paulding County.
US 24 reopens after ethanol spill from deadly pileup

Cleanup tedious, perilous

Crews’ work had highway closed nearly 36 hours

Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
An environmental crew digs up the median Wednesday at the site of Tuesday’s multivehicle crash on U.S. 24.
Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Crews work Wednesday to remove ethanol from the road and median of U.S. 24.

U.S. 24 was closed for most of the day Wednesday in Paulding County, Ohio, as crews worked to clean an ethanol spill from a fatal 14-vehicle pileup on Tuesday.

But the highway was reopened in both directions about 8:30 p.m., about 3 1/2 hours sooner than officials expected. Drivers had been directed to use Ohio 49, Ohio 111 and U.S. 127 as a detour during the closure.

An average of 6,670 drivers travel that section of U.S. 24 on a daily basis, according to 2009 data, the most recent available Wednesday from the Ohio Department of Transportation. In the fall of 2009, that section of U.S. 24 was expanded from two lanes to four as part of the Fort to Port project widening the highway from Fort Wayne to Toledo.

The highway had been closed since about 8 a.m. Tuesday when the pileup occurred. Thick fog and a driver’s failure to yield the right-of-way are to blame, said Sgt. Jonathon Gray of the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s Van Wert post.

Ashley A. Messmann was driving a 2000 Chevy Blazer north on County Road 87, and she tried to cross U.S. 24 but failed to yield to an eastbound semi, officers said.

The semi, driven by Dale D. Janssens, 41, of Monroe, Mich., struck the Blazer, and Messmann, 28, of Paulding, Ohio, died at the scene.

The semi that hit the Blazer was hauling a tanker that contained liquid ethanol. The crash ruptured the tanker, and about 1,500 gallons of liquid ethanol, a flammable substance, spilled into the median, officers said.

Pollution control crews from SWS Environmental Services and Marine Pollution Control worked Wednesday to clear the area of contaminated water and soil, Gray said.

The process involved digging up soil, scraping the road, soaking up contaminated water and loading the debris onto trucks to be transported elsewhere and decontaminated. Pollution control groups worked in shifts throughout the day because of the risk of being infected by contaminants, Gray said.

“There are certain parameters that have to be followed when doing these sorts of cleanups,” he said.

The tedious cleanup process was the main reason the highway was closed for so long, he said.

Tuesday’s crash resulted in a pileup of 11 semis, two passenger vehicles and a pickup truck.

Seven other motorists, some local and others from out of state, were taken to hospitals with injuries that were not life-threatening, the patrol said.

According to the patrol’s Van Wert post, the following people were injured in the crash: Billy E. Pursley of Loudonville, Ohio; Gary J. Schleinkofer of Fort Wayne; Linda A. Gessler of Fort Wayne; Russell D. Williams of Auburn; Mark T. Van Deilen of Toledo; Larry N. Dugat of Dixon, Mo.; and Kyle M. Cavaleri of Panama City, Fla.