Accident closes I-20 during rush hour

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

COVINGTON -- Commuters learned Thursday morning that too much morning coffee is not a good thing.

A semi-truck pulling two trailers filled with pool chemicals, Starbucks coffee and watermelon plants overturned in the median of Interstate 20, east of Ga. Highway 11, about 5:30 a.m. The interstate was shut down for approximately four hours while traffic was diverted onto secondary roads, bringing morning rush-hour traffic to a standstill.

About 9:30 a.m., one lane in each direction of I-20 was reopened, still resulting in delays and back-ups.

Traffic was diverted onto Ga. Highway 11 and U.S. 278, but it was slow going on the secondary roads.

Covington Kmart pharmacist Tammy Rustin said she left her Morgan County home at 8:15 a.m. and arrived at work at 11 a.m. Her commute usually takes 35 minutes. She said her co-workers managed the pharmacy desk while she was en route, even guiding her via phone through unfamiliar back roads.

The delays also affected Newton County schools.

"We had approximately 50 students delayed getting to Eastside High School this morning as a result of the accident on I-20, as well as 22 students from Indian Creek Middle School. This included both car riders and a couple of buses transporting students," said Sherri Viniard, director of public relations for the school system. "In addition, we've had several schools report that teachers were delayed getting to school this morning -- some by almost two hours due to the traffic backup."

Newton County Sheriff's Office spokesman Anthony Washington reported Thursday afternoon that the interstate was fully reopened at 2:45 p.m.

Newton County Emergency/Risk Management Deputy Director Jody Nolan said there were initial concerns that the pool chemicals the truck was carrying would create a hazard.

"It was initially treated as a hazmat scene until we could investigate, but the hazardous materials on the truck for the most part remained intact," he said. "It was all sorts of pool chemicals -- shock and chlorine."

According to Washington, a Walton County Fire Department Hazardous Material Team responded and was able to secure and contain the "minimal amount of sodium chloride" on the truck.

Washington said the semi was headed east on I-20 when the driver struck the guard rail, then hit the bridge/overpass and came to a rest in the median.

"Debris was scattered along both sides of the roadway," he said.

Among the debris was a large variety of Starbucks coffees.

"There was a variety of coffee and in multiple flavoring, everything from peppermint to vanilla. There was a variety of scents, there's no doubt about that," Nolan said from the scene.

The Newton County Fire Service assisted in the cleanup after inmates from Newton County Detention Center were able to pick up most of the debris.

The Georgia State Patrol is investigating the cause of the crash.

The driver of the truck was transported to an area hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, Washington said.