Turnpike directs drivers of tarred cars to insurance company

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The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is advising drivers whose vehicles were damaged by a tar-like chemical that spilled from a tanker truck Tuesday night to contact the truck company's insurer.

The chemical leaked from a tanker truck traveling east on the turnpike, damaging a few vehicles to the point they could no longer move and delaying traffic between the New Castle and Allegheny Valley exits for hours.

Bill Capone, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, said a truck from Marino Transportation Services in Stevensville, Md., drove onto the turnpike at the New Castle exit shortly before 8 p.m. The driver, unaware that his truck was leaking, continued east for about 40 miles before pulling into the Oakmont service plaza, Mr. Capone said.

The majority of the warm, sticky substance fell before the Warrendale toll plaza.

The turnpike recommended today that owners of damaged vehicles call Travelers, the truck company's insurer, at 1-800-238-6225 and follow the prompt for business claims. They should use claim number F9Y7972.

The turnpike planned to issue information later today on the best products to use to remove the tar, spokesman Carl DeFebo said.

State police intend to charge the truck driver with failing to secure the load, Trooper John Wolff of the Gibsonia barracks said today. The summary offense carries a $300 to $1,000 fine.

Mr. Capone said crews were out Tuesday night working to peel up some of the tar and then place down a sand-like substance. He warned drivers to be on the lookout for cleanup crews and some possible lane closures.

Some drivers whose cars were damaged were angry today that the turnpike wasn't closed.

"It's really frustrating. Nobody stopped you from going through that stuff," said Betsy Kowalski of State College, whose Suburu was damaged. She said as she entered the turnpike at Cranberry she began seeing scores of motorists pulled to the side, peering at their tires.

"It looked like their tires were melting. We started to worry that there was acid on the road," she said. One of her tires was coated, forcing her to drive slowly on her way to her home in State College. It took five hours.

Karen Gilmore of Rockwood emailed this account:

"Our daughter is home from Germany and was visiting friends in Slippery Rock when she entered the Turnpike at about 8 p.m. She called us and was quite upset because she said the car wasn't driving right and that there were many cars pulled over to the side. When she got out to check the car there was a thick, black substance all over the tires and splashed onto the car itself.

"We told her that if it was at all possible to drive, she should exit the turnpike to a safe location and call us. She was able to make it to the Allegheny Valley exit and went into the McDonald's at Harmar. We left Somerset County to pick her up and to get the car towed. However, when we saw the extent of the damage to all four tires, we knew we would need a rollback truck.

"We finally gave up on getting a truck at about 1:30 a.m. and came home. Today involves another trip to Harmar to get the car to a Toyota dealer. We are upset that the turnpike was not closed immediately. So many people that we met had entered the turnpike quite a while after our daughter. A lot of expense and frustration could have been avoided."

The damaged car was a month old, she said.

Representatives for Marino Transportation have not returned calls seeking comment.

Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1438.


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