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Truck rollover on Rt. 54 puts strain on volunteers

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    Dan Farber of Hope’s Collision and Towing, of Tamaqua, uses heavy equipment to clean up a spilled load Monday when a tractor-trailer flipped while heading down Mintzer’s Hill, Route 54, in Hometown. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

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    “We just had a wide load try to come through here,” said Merle Wertman, captain, Hometown fire police, on Monday during cleanup operations on Route 54 in Hometown after a truck flipped and spilled its cargo. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

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    An extra trailer and heavy equipment were called into duty Monday in Rush Township when a tractor-trailer hauling garbage overturned while descending Mintzer’s Hill, Route 54, in Hometown. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

Published November 19. 2019 01:07PM


It was bad, they said, but could’ve been far worse.

The tractor-trailer rollover that closed Route 54 in Hometown on Monday happened just after the early morning rush.

If it had taken place an hour earlier or on a different day, the results could’ve been disastrous.

“Thank God this wasn’t Hometown Auction day. This could’ve been ugly,” said William Price of Tamaqua, working cleanup operations with Hope’s Collision and Towing.

Price said it would be a long day for him and the workers because much needed to be done. Initial hours on scene are spent emptying what’s left of the truck’s cargo. Then there’s debris cleanup along the highway and even off road. Finally, they will use equipment to right the truck and tow it.

“We have to do Hazmat cleanup. There’s oil and diesel fuel. And we have to cut the truck’s battery cables. You can’t just turn it over.”

Afterward, the highway has to be washed down.

The Hazleton Scrap Recycling truck, loaded with up to 78,000 pounds of garbage, dumped its load about midway up Mintzer’s Hill, a steep section of highway leading from Hometown village to Marian Road.

The crash occurred just before 9 a.m., shortly after students had arrived for class at nearby Marian High School.

“When we got the call, it was about 8:51 and all were in school,” said Dave Clewell, safety officer of Hometown Fire Company.

Clewell stayed on hand all day to ensure everyone remained safe at the scene. The cleanup operation was still underway when the school day finished.

The cleanup

“I believe the police already notified the school that they’ll have to use Fairview Street,” said Matt Hope of Hope’s Collision.

“Luckily, nobody was hurt. That’s the most important thing,” said Mike Warner of Tamaqua Transfer and Recycling. The firm assisted with the lengthy cleanup operation.

The truck driver reportedly suffered a head injury but is expected to be OK.

Warner said the truck’s cab appeared to be crushed and “totaled” but the trailer portion might be fixable.

Hope’s Collision and Towing dispatched wreckers, manpower and salvage equipment. Some of the crew had to climb down a steep embankment to retrieve trash that was tossed when the truck flipped.

Volunteer resources were stretched thin for the operation, in which responders were dispatched early in the morning and had to remain all day.

“We’re going to be here maybe until 6,” said Merle Wertman of Tamaqua. He serves as captain of the Hometown fire police. His unit was set up near Hometown Farmers Market.

A unit from Tamaqua fire police was stationed at Hometown intersection and yet another group, including Ryan Township fire police, directed traffic at Marian Road and Route 54.


When volunteers grew hungry, one of the group went to nearby McDonald’s and asked if the restaurant would donate hamburgers.

“But they turned us down,” said Wertman.

For Wertman and his crew, it was a sign of the times.

“When Jay Morgan had that place, he’d give us anything we’d need.”

Wertman, who’s spent 57 years in service to Hometown Fire Company and fire police, said Turkey Hill Minit Market can be counted on to furnish drinking water. When responders are needed to stand in the street all day long to direct traffic, something as simple as a bottle of water can be refreshing.

Making the job hard, Wertman said, are drivers who are disrespectful and don’t heed warnings. He said they don’t realize they can be slapped with a hefty fine and face charges that could lead to license suspension if they don’t follow direction by fire police.

“Years ago there was respect,” he said. “Now they’re arrogant and obnoxious.”

There was one bright spot for volunteers.

When fire police officer Josh Grim went to Turkey Hill to get several coffees for the crew, he was pleasantly surprised.

“I was filling the cups when a woman asked what was going on. So I told her.”

When Grim went to the cashier to pay, he was told the woman took care of the bill.

The men want to thank her but don’t know her name. The only thing they know is that she is a nurse.

They said the anonymous woman was a bright spot in a long, dismal day.

“There are still some nice people in the world,” Wertman said.

The roadway was reopened around 3:30 p.m.



When volunteers grew hungry, one of the group went to nearby McDonald’s and asked if the restaurant would donate hamburgers. “But they turned us down,” said Wertman.

Yes, McDonald's shows their true community spirit. How sad is that?

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