Gas spill site's cleaning, victim's recovery ongoing processes

CHAMPAIGN – A Decatur truck driver injured last week when his tanker truck overturned trying to avoid another vehicle remains in critical condition at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana.

Terry Hudson said her husband, David Hudson, 47, is still unconscious, a condition he has been in since shortly after his admission to Carle on Dec. 26.

About 9:15 p.m. that day, Hudson was westbound on Church Street in west Champaign in the passing lane when a westbound minivan driven by Erin Ruprecht, 17, of Mahomet tried to make a left turn from the driving lane onto Country Fair Drive and turned in front of Hudson.

He braked to avoid hitting the van, and the tanker truck, filled with more than 8,000 gallons of fuel, turned over. About 5,300 gallons of gasoline spilled into ditches on either side of the highway, with much of it ultimately going into the Copper Slough drainage ditch, which starts north of the accident site and runs to southwest Champaign.

Bill Walljasper, chief financial officer for Casey's General Stores in Ankeny, Iowa, said it's hard to tell how long the cleanup will continue, but Maggie Carson, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, said it could go on a couple more weeks.

On Friday, crews from Superior Environmental Corp. in Springfield, the firm that Casey's contracts with to clean up gasoline spills, were removing contaminated dirt from banks of the Copper Slough on the north side of Interstate 72 and west of Country Fair Drive near the R.P Lumber Co.

George Krebs of the IEPA's emergency operations unit was there overseeing the excavation. Krebs said as much as eight feet had to be removed in some spots. Krebs said the dirt would be taken to a landfill in Danville, where it would take about a year for the contaminants in the soil to break down. After that, Krebs said, the dirt could be used as landfill cover but would not be able to be moved from the landfill site.

Walljasper said Casey's will pay the cost of the cleanup, expected to run in the tens of thousands, and figure out later if it can recover any of that from the van driver.

"The assessment of liability is an ongoing endeavor," Walljasper said.

Champaign Park District Director Bobbie Herakovich said Kaufman Lake and the Greenbelt Trail will remain closed until the cleanup is done.

Absorbent booms designed to contain the spill remain in various spots along the Copper Slough, said Carson.

Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris McCloud said the number of fish killed from the spill was estimated at 1,108, with a value of $297.68.

"We're calling it a small fish kill. As far as cleanup, we don't clean that up. Mother Nature takes its course and they shouldn't be there too long, especially with such a small kill," McCloud said.

McCloud said 5.57 miles of water was affected, with the fish kill beginning in the Copper Slough and reaching about one mile into the Kaskaskia River.

Of those killed, 28.34 percent were considered game species and 71.66 percent nongame species, he said. Thirteen percent of the dead fish were considered commercial species, he said.

Meantime, Terry Hudson said her husband, who sustained multiple holes in his lungs, bruises to his heart and lungs, broken bones, and numerous other injuries, was brought out of his drug-induced coma this week but is still not fully conscious.

"He is still in critical condition. His lungs are improving. He's on a regular ventilator," she said. "He's hanging in there."

Hudson has been a truck driver about 25 years, she said, but had only driven for Casey's about five months.

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