CHICOPEE, Mass. - A driver severely burned when his tanker truck filled with fuel rolled over and exploded on a western Massachusetts interstate has died, authorities said Saturday.
Investigators said Aaron Staelens, 43, of Richmond swerved after a car struck him, causing his tanker to crash into a guardrail on Interstate 91 in Chicopee early Friday. He died several hours later, according to a spokeswoman for Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
The trailer separated from the tanker, rolled over the guardrail and down an embankment as the cab and trailer burst into flames, police said.
Witnesses said several drivers ran to pull Staelens from the burning cab, including some carrying blankets and jackets to smother the flames. But the fire drove everyone back.
Staelens eventually freed himself and ran ablaze through a "ring of fire" around the cab, before police and other drivers put out the flames, State Police Capt. Barry O'Brien said.
The fire burned about 90 minutes after the wreck that sent fireballs and thick black smoke billowing up and shut down the highway.
Staelens employer, Abenaqui Carriers of North Hampton, N.H., said the tanker was carrying 9,500 gallons of gasoline and 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel.
"Aaron has been a respected driver in the tanker truck industry for more than 15 years," Paul Marston, company president, said in a statement Saturday.