According to DPS, Highway 36 in Brenham is back open.
It will be until 2:00 a.m. Thursday before a Washington County roadway is expected to be reopened after a deadly wreck Wednesday morning.
The driver of a pickup truck who died at the scene of the fiery crash has been identified as 31-year-old Lazaro Esparza, Jr. of Temple. Authorities believe Esparza was going south towards Houston around 4:45 a.m. and veered into northbound traffic and an 18-wheeler carrying a load of oil and grease.
Martin Lovell Harris of Houston was behind the wheel of the big rig. Both vehicles were destroyed. The oil and grease spilled over into a ditch along the side of the road. Harris suffered lacerations to his left arm and was treated by Washington County EMS crews.
A DPS trooper said the Harris tried repeatedly to signal Esparza, but to no avail.
“From my house all I could see was a big red fire and rolling black smoke. It looked like something exploded and it sure sounded like it too,” said witness Linda Zientek.
Just before 5 a.m., the impact of a head-on collision caused Highway 36 at Dixie Street to light up like the fourth of July.
"As soon as we arrived the 18-wheeler was fully engulfed and the pickup truck was not,” said Brenham Chief Ricky Boeker. “But it did appear the pickup went over the center line and that's when he hit the 18 wheeler head-on.”
Authorities say 40- 50 barrels of motor oil and battery fluid were housed inside the trailer of the 18-wheeler. The impact caused it to ignite.
"All you could see was just thick black smoke and I got scared, so I ran over to my neighbor’s house and woke them up," said Zientek. "But when I left for work and I came up to FM 577 I saw just how bad the wreck was and I just thought, wow, poor people."
It took three-and-a-half hours and three fire departments to calm the raging flames. At 11 a.m. the boiling fluid inside the barrels caused the flames to reignite. Liquid inside the barrels leaked out, creating an oily stream on the side of Hwy 36. A Hazmat team arrived on scene to clean up the hazardous material.
It's a scene that Zientek is all too familiar.
"I had a friend die here last year, it's a very troublesome road," Zientek explained. “It scares me because I’ve got kids that are driving and it’s just very scary to think about.”
Because the highway was damaged in the accident, Hazmat crews have been working to repair the road. Highway 36 has been closed from the US 290 Cloverleaf area (or Dixie Road) to FM 577. A detour is set up at FM 577, sending traffic through town.
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