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June 13, 2024

Tanker truck fire that led to I-95 collapse was likely caused by fuel spilling from unsecured hatch, report says

Federal investigators say the driver failed to properly seal a 16-inch cover on top of the tank. When the vehicle crashed, gas poured out and ignited.

Investigations Crashes
I95 Collapse Thomas P. Costello/USA TODAY NETWORK

A federal investigation determined that the tanker truck fire that led to the collapse of a section of I-95 in Northeast Philly last year most likely started because of an open fuel hatch. When the truck crashed, fuel spilled out and ignited, investigators say.

The fuel truck fire that caused a portion of an I-95 overpass to collapse in Northeast Philly last year was intensified by an unsecured hatch that allowed about 2,500 gallons of mixed gas and ethanol to spill from the overturned vehicle, according to an report released Thursday.

The truck went up in flames after it rolled over while navigating a northbound off-ramp at Cottman Avenue on June 11, 2023, killing its driver, 53-year-old Nathan Moody. The truck had stopped to refuel in Wilmington, Delaware that morning before leaving to make a delivery at a Wawa in Philadelphia, according to federal investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. 

Video evidence shows Moody hadn't properly sealed a 16-inch manhole cover on top of the fuel tank by the time stopped stopped to refuel, and he didn't secure it as he left, the report says. When the truck crashed, investigators said it's possible the aluminum tank ruptured or that the vehicle's diesel gas tanks were damaged, releasing vapors or gas that stoked the flames. The first fuel to ignite was "most likely" from the manhole cover that was left open, the report says.

Heat from the fire melted the highway's steel support beams, resulting in the collapse of the northbound half of the bridge and significant structural damage to the southbound side. Both sides of the highway had to be rebuilt, causing weeks of disruptions until temporary lanes could be reconstructed. The permanent replacement of the overpass reopened last month, fully restoring the eight-lane highway that carries about 160,000 vehicles daily.

Firefighters told the National Transportation Safety Board that dozens of explosions occurred as flames raged beneath the highway.

Moody was an experienced driver who had been making a delivery for Pennsauken, New Jersey-based TK Transport at the time of the crash. His cousin, Isaac Moody, told the Associated Press that Nathan was attentive to safety.

"It's so easy for them to throw the blame on the trucker in almost every accident that happens," Moody said. "As soon as a trucker cannot defend themselves, they find all kinds of stuff."

The ATF, whose report accompanied several other documents released by the NTSB, said its investigation into the crash has concluded. The final report from NTSB may not be released for another year.

The total cost to repair the highway — including the temporary structure — was $20 million, PennDOT Secretary Mike Carroll said last month. More than 90% of the funding for the repairs came from the federal government.