By MELINDA WILLIAMS
SMYTH COUNTY – Three men were killed Wednesday when a tanker truck went out of control on Interstate 81, colliding with two other trucks and bursting into flames.
As of 10 p.m. Wednesday, the southbound lanes of the interstate remained close as a result of the 3:27 p.m. wreck at mile marker 54 in Smyth County, according to Corrine Geller, spokeswoman for Virginia State Police. The incident remains under investigation.
Geller said a road inspection crew consisting of a 2009 Chevrolet pickup truck on the right shoulder of the highway, and a GMC highway crash cushion truck, was traveling together when the wreck occurred. She said witnesses indicated the crash cushion truck was displaying an activated flashing arrow sign to warn motorists of their presence.
Witnesses told investigators that the tanker truck was traveling in the left southbound lane when it swerved and then overcorrected. The tanker turned onto its side across both southbound lanes when the 8,500 gallons of gasoline it was hauling shifted.
Geller said witnesses indicated the tanker truck then slid into the pickup truck, exploded, and collided with the crash cushion truck, causing all three vehicles to catch fire.
Frank A. Skeens Jr., 48, of Castlewood, who was driving the tanker truck, and the driver of the pickup truck, Trevor Blankenship, 30, of Lebanon, both died at the scene. The driver of the crash cushion truck died en route to the hospital, but his identity is not being released until next of kin are notified.
Geller said the southbound lanes would remain closed while Virginia Department of Transportation assesses the pavement condition due to the intensity of the explosion and fire.
Virginia State Police’s Wytheville Division Accident Reconstruction Team is assisting with the wreck investigation.