SARASOTA -- An early morning gasoline tanker crash Wednesday on Interstate 75 disrupted Sarasota County traffic as crews worked all day to clean up the mess.
Two northbound lanes were reopened at 4:40 p.m., according to a dispatcher with the FHP. All lanes were cleared by 7:15 p.m.
The first report of the crash, which injured the driver of the tanker and another driver, came at 5:43 a.m. The tanker had been heading south on I-75 near Fruitville Road when it crossed the median into the northbound lanes and clipped a Ford F-150 pickup before skidding to a stop on its side in a ditch.
Sarasota County Fire Department Capt. Jerry Jensen said between 250 and 500 gallons of gasoline leaked from the tanker into the ditch, but no further leakage was detected as of 9:30 a.m. Crews covered the spilled gasoline with foam to prevent it from igniting in the 90-plus degree heat.
All northbound lanes between Fruitville Road and University Parkway were then closed. Traffic was diverted off I-75 at the Bee Ridge Road exit and southbound lanes were slow moving, according to Florida Highway Patrol.
The 71-year-old tanker driver was flown by helicopter to Blake Medical Center in Bradenton, where he was listed in critical condition. The driver of the F-150 was taken by ambulance to Doctors Hospital in Sarasota with no initial word as to his condition.
Officials estimated the highway would reopen by 1 p.m., but crews and additional tankers had to be brought in to remove gasoline remaining in the damaged tanker.
Firefighters used a vacuum truck to clean up the foam and spilled fuel, Jensen said. They took samples to determine how much soil needed to be taken to clear all pollution, he added.
An additional four-car accident occurred as a result of the tanker going into a ditch, which resulted in no injuries.
On Thursday, the investigation will continue into the cause of the crash.
"We are going to go out and do a post-inspection of the truck tomorrow to get some more information," Bueno said.
Two responding firefighters sustained minor injuries, one a sprained ankle and the other heat-related.
"They have since been treated and returned to duty," Jensen said.
Less than a week ago, a semi-truck crash involving five other vehicles caused mayhem for motorists traveling north on I-75 during Friday afternoon rush hour in Manatee County.
The driver lost control of the rig while crossing the J.D. Young Bridge over the Manatee River, hitting an SUV, setting it ablaze and slamming it against the wall. The driver of the vehicle, which was engulfed in flames, died instantly. The rig then hit another vehicle causing a chain reaction. Investigators are still waiting for confirmation of the victim's identity from the Medical Examiner's Office.
Charges against the truck driver are pending the outcome of an investigation, according to Bueno.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.