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Driver put in long hours on day before fatal propane explosion

OLIVIA -- The driver who was killed when his propane tanker tipped over and exploded near Olivia on Nov. 23 had put in more hours on the day before the accident than the law usually allows.

But there will not be any prosecution attempted against the employer, Glenn Phillip Huber Trucking of Mapleton, as there was no wrong doing in this case: A Governor's executive order allowing drivers to work longer hours during the harvest season had just expired at midnight, but was in effect on the day before the accident, said Renville County Attorney David Torgelson.

Brad M. Ripley, 44, of Mankato died when the International truck he was driving overturned as he turned north from U.S. Highway 212 onto Minnesota Highway 71 at 7:15 a.m.

Ripley had put in approximately 15 hours on the day before the accident, working until 10:05 p.m., according to an investigation by the Minnesota State Patrol. He picked up a trailer holding propane in Vernon Center at 5:24 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 23. He was on his way to deliver the tanker-owned by Western Coop of Montevideo- to Belgrade when the accident occurred.

Torgelson said Department of Public Safety investigators informed him that the driver had put in more hours than the law would have allowed were the executive order not in effect. He is not sure how many hours over the limit the driver had put in, since the executive order exemption would prevent prosecution.

The investigation into the accident by the Minnesota State Patrol does not include a finding of cause, but driver error cannot be ruled out as a possibility, noted the attorney.

The State Patrol report indicates that the fatal accident occurred as the driver turned onto Highway 71, and that the turn may have been made with too much speed.

The driver's badly-burned body was found about 100 yards northeast of the truck tractor.

The trailer had been fully loaded with 9,499 gallons of propane, but would not have immediately exploded. A state fire marshal estimates that the explosion probably happened 20 minutes after the trailer tipped over.

The report indicates that there were no baffles in the tanker "and with too much speed and the liquid load surging and shifting the tanker overturned.''

It is believed that a valve broke or some other type of leak occurred and that a spark ignited the mixture. The state fire marshal who investigated the accident concluded that the pressure valves were unable to dissipate the propane fast enough. The heat intensified and the tank exploded, a process he estimated would take 20 minutes.

Those findings suggest it is very fortunate that no one else was injured or killed as a result of the accident. The county attorney noted that emergency personnel could easily have arrived at the scene before the explosion occurred had they been summoned sooner. But the accident's timing on a Sunday morning meant there was minimal traffic at the time.

The attorney is not aware of any state or federal charges that could follow the investigation, but said it is possible that the National Transportation and Safety Board might want to determine if the tanker and its safety valves functioned properly.