SOUTHINGTON — A Naugatuck man was sentenced in Waterbury Superior Court to jail time in connection with a collision with a fuel tanker in December 2011.
Brian Miele, 45, was arrested on Dec. 27, 2011, and charged with first-degree larceny, interfering with an officer, driving under the influence and reckless driving. He pleaded guilty to substituted charges on Sept. 5 in Waterbury Superior Court, consisting of two counts of using a motor vehicle without permission, engaging police in pursuit, possession of narcotics, failure to appear, and operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license, according to court records.
Miele was sentenced Thursday to seven years in prison for one of the charges of using a motor vehicle without permission, one year for engaging police in pursuit, one year for possession of narcotics, one year for failure to appear, and 30 days for driving with a suspended license. Miele will serve the sentences concurrently, and his total effective sentence for the five convictions is seven years.
Miele will also be credited with time already served, dating to Dec. 27, 2011.
Sentencing information for the second charge of using a motor vehicle without permission was not available Friday.
The accident occurred around 3:30 p.m. at the intersection of Old Turnpike Road and Meriden-Waterbury Turnpike. State police were in pursuit of Miele, who they said had stolen a SUV, when Miele crashed into a fuel tanker. The trooper jumped out of his cruiser and chased Miele, who tried to run away from the scene, police said. As the trooper was struggling with Miele, as seen on the troopers dash camera footage, a fire broke out under the SUV and the side of the fuel tanker. The trooper is seen running back to his cruiser and backing it up, creating distance between himself and the fire. The video cut to a few minutes later and flames are above the trees and multiple police and fire crews are seen blocking the streets and working to extinguish the fire.
According to Southington Assistant Fire Chief Thomas Wisner, Miele was in custody when fire crews arrived, and extra units were called in from Waterbury and Hartford fire departments to assist.
“Thankfully the tanker didn’t go fully up,” Wisner said on Friday, recalling the incident. “It was a potentially catastrophic incident, but luck was on our side.”
Wisner said the tanker truck was able to vent the heat, and fire crews worked to cool off the tanker while the fire burned through some of the fuel. At the time of the crash, the tanker had 8,600 gallons of fuel in it, Wisner said. The fuel was in five different compartments, and the fire didn’t spread from one compartment to another, therefore not causing the tanker to explode, Wisner said. If the worst scenario had happened, the houses and several businesses close to the scene could have been heavily damaged, Wisner said.
“Homes and lives could have been lost,” Wisner said.
Southington fire Lt. Glenn Dube was also on the scene that night, and said the fire reached above the tree line, melting power lines and other wires. Dube said the fuses at the top of the utility poles might have gone out, and when that happens there is a very loud noise that can sound like a blast, which is why some residents reported hearing explosions and said transformers exploded. Dube said the situation involved a lot of luck, but also a lot of hard work.
Nearby homes and businesses were evacuated, and Dube said for the most part, people were cooperative.
“When you see a burning gas tanker, you don’t hang around,” Dube said. “They didn’t need a lot of convincing to head the other way.”
Dube said the situation had the potential to be a massive environmental hazard, as well, if the fuel had gotten into the river that was right near the scene of the crash. Wisner said a small amount of fuel made it into the river, but the fire crews were able to use absorbent booms to soak it up.
The damage to the road, the electrical wires, the tanker truck and the stolen SUV was estimated to be around $170,000, Wisner said. Fire and police crews were on the scene for an extended time and fire departments from other towns sent crews, so the total cost of the incident was most likely more than $200,000, Wisner said.