A Harrison County Sheriff's deputy believes a chance encounter may have prevented a tragedy on the road. Officer Ken Brawner works with the Motor Carrier Unit that routinely inspects commercial and HAZMAT trucks. Saturday night, while patrolling Interstate 10, he decided to pull over an 18-wheeler and found danger lurking inside.
The driver was on his way to Georgia from Houston. Around Baton Rouge, investigators say Henry Smith realized something was wrong. A container of Alkanolamine spilled after the lid had come off. If inhaled, this corrosive chemical can burn the lungs. Smith continued his road trip until he hit a road block named Deputy Ken Brawner.
Deputy Brawner inspects commercial trucks. To keep his certification he must pull over so many vehicles per year.
"I was looking for Hazmat trucks at that point and time to finish out my certification and when I saw this one drive by I proceeded to stop it."
Brawner then escorted the driver back to the Motor Carrier Unit headquarters for a more thorough inspection. At first everything seemed normal. Then Brawner asked the driver to open the trailer.
"I opened the door further and when I did I grabbed the strap that opened the sliding door. I noticed it was wet and that was a clue right off. I looked at the floor of the trailer and there was liquid material all over the floor."
Then the night took a dangerous turn for Brawner then. Not knowing what had leaked, he crawled inside.
"My biggest concern was what do we have and how much of a danger is it to others. I had to worry about the other people that would be in the area because I didn't know exactly what we had."
Soon HAZMAT and the Department of Environmental Quality figured out the deputy had found. It was a corrosive chemical and that could pose a health hazard.
"He's [the driver] driving down the road. He gets into an accident in a heavily populated area. You've got a catastrophe on your hands. To be honest with you, that catastrophe never happened because we were able to get him off the road."
Brawner and the driver were taken to the hospital and decontaminated. The D.E.Q. is considering citing the trucking company for polluting the environment. Officials say the driver should have notified officials in Baton Rouge and had the spill cleaned up.
Meanwhile, the spokesman for the New Jersey based Jevic Transportation Incorporated says the driver handled the situation appropriately.