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Crime & Courts

Tanker driver pleads guilty to oil pollution charges for Richardson Highway spill

  • Author: Zaz Hollander
  • Updated: October 23, 2018
  • Published October 23, 2018

A tanker driver involved in a February rollover that spilled nearly 3,000 gallons of diesel along the Richardson Highway near Valdez pleaded guilty to state oil pollution charges this week.

Louis Nations, 52, was driving a Big State Logistics semi on Feb. 22, approaching the Richardson from a side road, when he crossed the highway and crashed into a snowbank at 47 mph despite flashing yellow lights warning drivers to slow down, an investigation found.

Nations entered his plea to the charge, a violation under state environmental laws, in Valdez District Court on Monday, according to an Alaska Department of Law statement.

Magistrate Judge Kay Adams presided over the hearing.

The Valdez Police Department and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Environmental Crimes Unit investigated the accident, which occurred near a salmon-bearing tributary of the Robe River.

The semi and trailer ended up about 20 feet off the north side of the Richardson across from Dayville Road. Both tanks ruptured and spilled fuel.

Tracks analyzed during the investigation revealed the truck continued almost straight across the intersection, the state's release said. Dash camera footage from the cab showed Nations passed a yellow light warning of the upcoming intersection at almost 50 mph. Witnesses said Nations told them he did not see the warning light on Dayville Road and entered the intersection too fast to make the turn.

He'd worked for Big State since 2015 and was just returning from two days off. He had attended a quarterly safety training session before his shift started.

No mechanical problems that might have caused the crash were detected during the investigation, state prosecutors said.

Adams sentenced Nations to pay a $5,000 fine and serve 10 days in jail but suspended a portion of the fine and all of the jail time. She placed Nations on a 1-year probation, according to the state. One of the conditions of probation requires Nations to complete 60 hours of community service for an environmental conservation organization.

The crash was one of numerous rollovers along the highway that's heavily used by trucks hauling tankers from Valdez. The crashes pose concerns for public safety and the environment. Regulators have said trucking companies are working on improvements.

Big State in October 2017 agreed to pay $43,000 to settle alleged federal Clean Water Act violations from three diesel spills in 2016.

Nations didn't make any statements during Monday's hearing, according to assistant attorney general Carole Holley.

He also pleaded guilty earlier this month to reckless-driving charges related to the crash.