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Witnesses talk about deadly crash in Smyth County

By Lyndsey Price, lprice@wcyb.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 08:48:19 AM CST
Updated On: Oct 03 2013 12:20:30 PM CDT

Witnesses tell us a boom from a crash on Interstate 81 near Groseclose shook their homes, smoke filled the air, and they could smell the fuel burning. They tell us it's something they've never seen before.

SMYTH COUNTY, Va. -

Witnesses tell us a boom from a crash on Interstate 81 near Groseclose shook their homes, smoke filled the air, and they could smell the fuel burning. They tell us it's something they've never seen before.

There isn’t much left of a tanker truck that was carrying more than 8,000 gallons of gasoline after it hit two construction vehicles and exploded. "I heard two loud bumps and the dust flew up," says William Crigger.

Crigger lives a half of a mile from Interstate 81 near exit 54, and he tells us the crash was loud even that far away. Virginia State Police say the tanker truck swerved to miss a crash cushion truck and a pick-up truck that was conducting a road inspection along the interstate.

"It seemed to me like 45 seconds to a minute later, flames shot up in the air with a loud 'boom'," adds Crigger.

Police tell us the tanker truck slid into the pickup truck, exploded, and then hit the cushion truck. Police say all three vehicles caught on fire. They tell us three people died in the crash, "My wife and I were standing out there and you could feel the heat over here off of it and the black smoke filled the sky," says Crigger.

The smoke was so thick the northbound and southbound lanes on the interstate had to be closed. Crigger tells us not only could you feel the heat from the explosion but you could smell the fuel. "You could smell it real strong fumes, you could tell it was diesel fuel," adds Crigger.

Wanda Armstrong lives on the other side of the interstate and she tells us she saw the fire, but didn't know how serious the crash was. "I saw the firemen was over there and it was still burning and I think it was a tractor and trailer," says Armstrong.

Both people tell us they've never seen an accident like this on the interstate and they hope nothing like this happens again.

The Virginia State Police tell us there was only one person inside each vehicle, and all three people died in the crash.

State Police say the driver of the tanker truck was 48-year-old Frank A. Skeens Jr. of Castlewood, Va. Police say the driver of the pick-up truck was 30-year-old Trevor Blankenship of Lebanon, Va. They tell us the driver of the crash cushion truck was 27-year-old Kenterrious L. Christian of Taylors, South Carolina.