Man rescued from tanker fire on I-91 by good Samaritans

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MERIDEN- An oil truck, from Ron’s Family Oil, in Plantsville, had just loaded up with 2,400 gallons of home heating oil, when the truck malfunctioned, on I-91 north in Meriden, bringing I-91 to a standstill or seven hours Monday, between exits 15 and 16.

By the dark plumes of smoke, which could be seen as far away as Hartford and New Haven, and the flames that burned for nearly two hours, one would assume the worst.

The tank separated from the cab of the oil truck after the crash that nobody saw it coming.

"I was behind him, when he blew his front tire and he lost control of the truck and hit the abutment," said Bob Shaw of Wallingford, who was driving a dump truck. "Then, the whole truck spun out and flipped over."

It wasn't that point, Shaw said, that his instincts simply took over.

"I got to him and he was still in the seat, laying out of the truck, with the harness still around his leg, but he was making noise and was conscious, which was good," said Shaw. "I didn't know what I was going to find, to tell you the truth. That's an awful wreck."

Mr. Shaw had help, from several others.

"We went running down with the fire extinguishers," said harold Lincoln of Wallingford.

The driver, Robert Angiletta, Jr., 36, of Meriden, miraculously walked away from the accident, with the assistance from several bystanders. He was taken to Yale–New Haven Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Shaw said it's a "good feeling. I'm glad I was here to help him."

"It's amazing what human nature will do for you," said Ken Morgan, Meriden Fire Chief. "And when it (adrenaline) kicks in you just think 'hey there is somebody in there you need to get them out' and you don't really look at the danger, the potential danger."

And, at least one other driver feels lucky, too.

Steve Slaiciunas, a salesman for the Tyco Corporation in Wallingford, was in the left lane, several seconds behind Angiletta's oil truck, when it crashed. After truck parts were strewn about the highway, oil again to spew across the highway and ignited just as Slaiciunas was passing. He had no time to stop and drill through the wall of fire.

Almost immediately, smoke was coming through the floorboard of his Subaru. He knew then that his car was on fire.

"I thought the best thing to do is just get off the side of the road away from everybody," said Slaiciunas, who was on his way to Hartford for a meeting, when fate changed his business calendar.

After he pulled most everything of consequence from his car, it became fully engulfed in flames.

Two hours after the accident, sand was spread to soak up the remaining oil. Soil samples were taken from the median. And, and the fire was allowed to burn itself out.

"So any fuel that's on the surface of the ground would actually burn off so it minimizes the cleanup," said Mark DeCaprio of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Because the oil truck struck the bridge abutment, beneath the Murdock Ave. overpass, the bridge was inspected before reopening Monday afternoon.