The Caldecott Tunnel Fire occurred on the night of April 7, 1982 at 12.20 a.m. when a drunk driver struck the tunnel wall of the north tube of Highway 24 between Oakland and Orinda leading to a chain of events that killed seven people and injured two. Following her accident, the few cars in the tunnel began to backup behind drunk driver's disabled vehicle. Within minutes, a gasoline double tanker carrying 8,800 gallons was followed by an AC Transit bus. The tanker hit the disabled car halfway through the tunnel and the bus hit either the tanker and/or the car. The tanker began leaking gas and the driver ran safely out of the tunnel.
Within minutes 20 cars entered the tunnel, in which the gasoline was flowing down the drains. Most of the cars were able to reverse out of the tunnel, but four cars (two pickup trucks, a beer truck, and a car) were trapped behind the tanker, which was on fire. June Rutledge, founder of the Piedmont Historical Society and her son Stephen Rutledge got out of their trapped pickup truck and walked uphill in the tunnel to warn other drivers not to enter. June used one of the emergency phones in the tunnel to call for help, but was killed when a fireball flashed through the tunnel. Her son Steve was injured, but survived, as well as Paul Petroelje, the driver in a second pickup truck.
Katherine and George Lenz, the elderly couple in the trapped car were also killed, as was John Dykes, the bus driver, along with Everett Kidney and Melvin Young, the occupants of the beer truck. Janice Ferris, the drunk driver in the first stopped car died as well.
One result of the accident was the banning of tanker vehicles containing flammable liquids from tunnels all over the country, or limiting them to certain hours. In the case of the Caldecott, they are only allowed from 3AM to 5AM, by Vehicle Code Section 31301.
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- Oakland, CA Tanker And Bus Collision In Tunnel, Apr 1982 GenDisasters
Caldecott inferno still a burning memory Oakland Tribune
Report Faults 2 Drivers In Fiery Tunnel Crash The New York Times (May 26, 1982)
Caldecott Tunnel fire Wikipedia
Pair Praised For Heroism After Fiery Tunnel Blast Spokane Chronicle (April 8, 1982)
Drunk Driver Possible Cause Of Tunnel Blast At Oakland Eugene Register-Guard (April 21, 1982)
Officials Probe Tunnel Inferno That Killed 7 The Pittsburgh Press (April 8, 1982)