Fiery Sunrise Highway tanker crash in Bellmore not caused by ice, say cops

A tanker truck crashed and exploded on Sunrise Highway in Bellmore late Tuesday night, lighting the sky with a huge fireball that damaged homes and parked vehicles, and injuring two people, Nassau County police and eyewitnesses said. Videojournalist: Paul Mazza (Dec. 18, 2013)

Newly minted interim Nassau Police Commissioner Victor Politi helped carry the driver of a burning gasoline-filled tanker from his rig after a late-night fiery crash in Bellmore, police officials said Wednesday.

The crash occurred about 11:15 p.m. Tuesday on Sunrise Highway and Newbridge Road and ignited an inferno that sent a massive fireball skyward and damaged several homes and vehicles, authorities said.

Politi said he helped the injured trucker to safety and away from the flames. The tanker had just slammed into a 2013 Hyundai stopped at a traffic light on Sunrise Highway.


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Limping from a leg injury with a gash on his head and still in dangerous proximity to the burning tanker, the 39-year-old trucker clung to the shoulders of Politi and a Nassau police officer as the two carried him to the center median of Sunrise Highway.

"He said his leg was hurting him," said Politi, who is a licensed medical doctor and occasionally still works shifts at Nassau University Medical Center. "I covered him with a blanket from my trunk and an ambulance was on the scene within seconds."

The driver of the Hyundai, a 51-year-old woman, had "bumps and bruises," Politi said.

Police said neither had life-threatening injuries. No one else was injured.

The fire was under control by 12:15 a.m. Wednesday, officials said.

Politi credited Engine 3 of the Bellmore Volunteer Fire Department, who he said "had three hand lines stretched and opened" and was spraying the nearby homes to prevent the fire from causing more damage.

"The flames were 12 feet, 14 feet high," Politi said. "People were trapped in their houses. There was quite a huge fireball and a river of burning gasoline running down the street."

Politi said he was on his way home from work after meeting with first Deputy Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter -- when he heard the call on the radio.

He was named interim commissioner last week after his predecessor, Thomas Dale, was fired when prosecutors found he ordered police officers to arrest a witness in a politically charged case.

"It was quite the scene," Politi said of the crash. "I think anybody who would have been there would have done the same thing. I'm very happy that no one was seriously injured."

The tanker was carrying 12,000 gallons of fuel when it rear-ended the Hyundai, police said. It then flipped onto its side and skidded eastbound on the highway toward Brevoort Place before crashing into the bay of a Harley-Davidson garage. Nearly 7,000 gallons of fuel gushed from the tanker and spilled onto Brevoort Place before igniting.

Police said they are still investigating the cause of the crash, but said it appears alcohol was not a factor, and no criminal charges are expected. Environmental factors, like ice, were also ruled out, police said.

Five homes near the crash scene nearly caught fire and plastic fences and siding melted from the heat, police said. Twelve parked vehicles were damaged.

Mary Matthews, 58, fled her home after hearing "this enormous explosion," she said Wednesday on her front lawn, as she surveyed the damage to her home.

Her cars -- a 1993 Buick LeSabre and a 2011 Dodge Caliber -- were blackened shells, destroyed by what she said was "a big ball of fire coming at us."

With the help of neighbors, Matthews got her mother, Peggy, 87, who uses a walker, out of the house. They're now staying at a relative's house in Plainview.

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