Note: This story was last updated at 9:05 p.m.
A male driver was taken to the hospital after a westbound minivan went down a small embankment on the north side of Oak Ridge Turnpike, crashed into a wooded area, and sparked a gas line fire on the east end of town.
Driver Thomas Debusk, 43, of Knoxville, was taken by ambulance to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, the Oak Ridge Police Department said.
The cause of the crash, reported at about 1:43 p.m., was not immediately known. The gold 2003 Honda Odyssey van driven by Debusk struck an aboveground natural gas pipeline in a small basin below Oak Ridge Turnpike and next to the parking lot at Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is across from Tractor Supply.
Oak Ridge Animal Control Officer Sara Walter, who was working at a pet adoption event at Tractor Supply when the crash occurred, ran across the Turnpike to assist, the ORPD said in a press release.
“Walter and passerby Danny Mealer broke the driver’s window, pulled Debusk from the vehicle, and rendered first aid,” the press release said.
ORPD Officers Grant Gouldie and Tim Nguyen, who incurred minor injuries at the scene, were treated at Methodist Medical Center and released.
“They’re the heroes of the day,” Oak Ridge Fire Department Battalion Chief Marty Griffith said of those who helped the driver out of the van. The gas line fire was burning at several hundred degrees, Griffith said.
The Oak Ridge Fire Department waited until the Oak Ridge Utility District arrived for instructions on what to do about the roaring fire shooting up from the one-inch high-pressure gas line. Once ORUD arrived, utility workers told firefighters they could turn off the gas.
In the meantime, firefighters kept the fire from spreading, including to a nearby utility pole, by keeping the area wet.
The gas line fire was out by 2:09 p.m., less than 30 minutes after it was reported.
The van was then towed from the crash site. It appeared most heavily damaged on its right front side.
All four lanes of Oak Ridge Turnpike were temporarily closed near Tractor Supply. The Oak Ridge Electric Department also responded to the crash, which damaged some guide wires on a utility pole next to the Turnpike.
Griffith said the gas line was capped, and ORUD checked the area for leaks and found none.
More information will be added as it becomes available.