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Witness saw ill-fated I-70 tanker truck slowly veer off

Friday, December 30, 2011

PUTNAMVILLE -- Four days after a fatal traffic accident claimed the life of an Ohio truck driver and closed Interstate 70 for more than 12 hours, authorities are still uncertain about the cause of the one-vehicle crash.

Monday's 4:30 p.m. accident at the 30-mile marker in western Putnam County resulted in the death of George F. Leggett, 65, Columbus, Ohio.

With the accident occurring in broad daylight on dry pavement during a light traffic period, authorities were hoping an autopsy would provide the key to what caused Leggett's westbound tanker to leave the roadway, overturn in the median and split in half.

Putnam County Chief Deputy Coroner Dave Brown has ruled Leggett's death accidental due to blunt force trauma. But findings fell short of determining why the accident occurred.

The autopsy did not find any indication of impairment via drugs or alcohol nor did it indicate any signs of a medical emergency such as a heart attack or seizure.

That has left authorities to speculate the Ohio man may have fallen asleep at the wheel of his tanker truck, which ended up spilling some 6,000 gallons of the industrial solvent acetone onto the ground and into ditches in the median and alongside the interstate.

Lending credence to the theory Leggett may have fallen asleep is an eyewitness report from Michael Shahadey, a Bloomington man who was preparing to pass Leggett's rig just before the accident occurred.

A former Terre Haute resident, Shahadey told The Terre Haute Tribune-Star that he noticed the tanker beginning to slowly drift into his path in the westbound passing lane.

That description would seem to eliminate a sudden maneuver to avoid an animal or another vehicle or even a reaction to the glare of the setting sun as potential causes of the fatal accident.

"It was just a nice, slow drift over," Shahadey said, adding that he saw no brake lights on the tanker to indicate Leggett was attempting to slow down.

Once entering the median, the truck struck several yellow barrels designed to keep vehicles from hitting the bridge supports for the Putnam County road (775 West) that passes over the four-lane interstate.

"The debris from the plastic barrels went into both lanes," Shahadey said, recalling the impact.

The barrels kept the tanker from crossing into the eastbound lanes. But the impact also caused the tanker to rupture, spilling its highly flammable load of acetone.

Shahadey was reportedly one of several motorists who stopped at the scene, approximately two miles east of the Putnam-Clay county line, and tried to assist the driver.

He reported some nurses were among those who tried in vain to get Leggett out of the cab of the wrecked semi.

"It was definitely a group effort," he said. "A lot of people stopped and tried to help."

Leggett was ultimately pronounced dead at the scene.

Hazardous materials clean-up took more than 12 hours with I-70 reopening with one lane by 5:15 a.m. and totally reopen to traffic by 6:30 a.m. Tuesday.

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This is George Leggett's wife. I am so grateful to all those who stopped and tried to help him after the accident. It helps to know there were kind people with him when he died.

He left Columbus, OH, our home, around noon on Monday, and had not been driving long when this accident happened. It is hard to believe he was tired, I know he had a good nights sleep. And, he was a good and careful driver with many safety awards.

-- Posted by CathyG on Fri, Dec 30, 2011, at 9:40 AM

There are many good people in Putnam County, as well as other counties, who are always willing to lend a helping hand. There are also many, like myself, who will offer prayers for you and your family as you process this loss. May you somehow find peace in your time of need.

-- Posted by eagle1234 on Fri, Dec 30, 2011, at 10:39 AM

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