Images of Gold Star bridge fiery truck crash are ‘startling,’ but …
The Interstate 95 bridge links New London and Groton, shuttling thousands of cars and trucks daily over the Thames River.
The right lane remains closed on the southbound bridge, along with the span’s pedestrian walkway and an acceleration lane from the Bridge Street on-ramp in Groton, according to state Department of Transportation spokesperson Josh Morgan.
The deadly crash unfolded Friday when state police said a car became disabled in the acceleration lane. A truck carrying heating oil collided with the disabled car, causing the truck to overturn and igniting its 2,200 gallons of heating oil. Photos of the scene showed a massive column of black smoke visible from miles away.
Morgan acknowledged they are “startling” images and that he’s heard about comments online from people who vow to never drive over the bridge again, but he stressed the structure is safe after the fire.
“Just to reassure the public … if there was any question about safety, we would have kept that bridge closed for as long as we needed to,” Morgan said.
When inspectors examined the bridge, they saw the paint on the structure that was designed to fail at 1,100 degrees was still intact.
“So what they saw immediately before they even got up close in person was that this fire did not burn hot enough, and it did not burn long enough, to cause any damage to the structural steel,” Morgan said. The crews still took measurements of the structure to ensure there was no “bowing, any elongation” that would indicate the bridge’s structural integrity had been compromised by the heat,” he added.
Crews are now replacing about 600 feet of aluminum fencing that runs along the pedestrian and bike path. A chain link fence has temporarily been installed while the repairs are made. The DOT is working to determine what kind of milling or paving may be needed for the road surface, as well as any sidewalk repairs.
The closures are not expected to result in any traffic delays, since four lanes of remain open on the southbound span.
“We’re confident the 60,000 vehicles that are crossing every day, will be able to do so without any impact,” Morgan said.
Also unaffected is a project to revitalize the northbound span of the bridge. Work to that structure has been ongoing, with crews replacing rivets with high-strength bolts underneath the bridge as well as some additional steel work, Morgan said. The final phase will be new decking and surface work, with the final project expected to finish in fall 2029.
State police said the crash occurred around 11:15 a.m. Friday when a Toyota Avalon stopped in the right acceleration lane for a tire issue. The fuel oil truck then crashed into the car from behind, causing the truck to overturn and spill its thousands of gallons of oil onto the road. The oil ignited, sending meter-high flames and thick black smoke climbing into the sky.
The driver of the Toyota and his passenger both escaped the crash with what state police said were minor injuries.
Among the people who stopped to pull the occupants from the Toyota was off-duty New London Police Lt. Cornelius Rodgers. New London police said Rodgers was able to pull one of the people out of the car “just before it became engulfed in flames.”
Police said the driver of the heating oil truck died during the incident, identifying him as 42-year-old Wallace Joseph Fauquet III, of Stonington.
A GoFundMe page organized by the family described Fauquet as a “doting, devoted, and loving husband” to his wife. The page said he is survived by two adult children and two younger sons, ages 12 and 15.
“Wally was a hard-working, caring, charismatic, family man,” the page stated. “He truly made the world a better place and helped everyone. He would have done anything for anyone.”
The fundraising campaign raised about $150,000 as of Tuesday morning to help with funeral costs and support his family.
Fauquet’s sister-in-law wrote that donations and kind words in comments have “helped his wife more than anyone can imagine.”
“She has been reading all of these comments, along with her sons,” she wrote. “She said this is the first time in her life that she’s felt like a part of a community and it’s an indescribable feeling.”