BUTLER, N.J. (Sept. 10, 2001)—If only the Exxon Valdez had run aground in front of Shawn Preziosi's store. Either that or a nearby Eskimo could have chipped in about 75,000 industrial-size bags of Speedy Dry to keep Prince William Sound from turning into a wasteland.
Mr. Preziosi was in the right place at the right time when a tractor-trailer rig slammed into the back of a cement mixing truck right outside his ETD Discount Tire Center store in Butler, N.J., Aug. 9. That coincidence, along with some quick thinking by Mr. Preziosi, the store's manager, helped prevent a major catastrophe from happening.
The vehicles' impact made a sound almost as unbelievable as the resulting lack of damage, human or otherwise.
“We were standing out in the shop and there was this loud boom—the loudest thing you ever heard,” Mr. Preziosi said. “We went running out and checked the guy in the tractor-trailer and he was OK; then we turned around and the guy in the concrete truck was already out.”
And so was the diesel fuel in the tractor-trailer, 150 gallons worth. Mr. Preziosi saw impending disaster, as the fuel headed toward a pair of sewer drains. Like most people who work in an automotive service environment, Mr. Preziosi knew a thing or two about dealing with oil slicks—albeit not of quite that magnitude.
Using a 50-pound bag of Speedy Dry, which soaks up wayward spillage like kitty litter, Mr. Preziosi kept the bulk of the fuel from running into a drain about 5 feet away. What he termed a “minimal” amount of fuel made its way down a second drain further away from the accident.
“We always keep that just for the little spills,” he said, noting that from a fuel-spill standpoint it was a good thing the wreck didn't occur in front of, say, a shoe store. “Forget it. It would have been right down the drain. We just said wait a minute and ran in and grabbed (the Speedy Dry).”
In addition to the fuel spilling onto the street, the cargo of the concrete truck was also oozing out. A bulldozer was brought in to prevent the impromptu construction of a concrete wall in the middle of the street—or, as Mr. Preziosi mused, one heck of a speed bump.
That wasn't the end of Mr. Preziosi's day by any means. Rescue and clean-up crews were on the scene for more than six hours. Mr. Preziosi at one point had to ask emergency crew members to move their personal vehicles so he could get cars in and out of his bays in order to not lose a day of business.
“We still had a great day of work, too,” he said.
Mr. Preziosi said his store also lost several gallons of water throughout the day, as EMTs and other various respondents to the accident tried to stay hydrated on a day when humid air accentuated temperatures in the 90s.
“I didn't mind that,” he said. “They had hoses all over our parking lot. Finally, at one point, I said we have to get some of these cars out of here.”
In the aftermath, all that's left are dark marks on the surface of Route 23, where the accident took place. The memory, though, is still fresh in Mr. Preziosi's mind.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “If you look at the passenger side (of the tractor-trailer), if he had somebody in that cab, they were done.
“I asked the driver, 'Did you fall asleep?' And he said, 'I don't know.' That's all he said.”