All lanes of northbound Interstate 5 were closed and one pedestrian died Friday after two early-morning crashes near the Pierce-King County line, one of them involving semitrucks carrying heavy cream and 30,000 pounds of fish. The collisions, which occurred just as the Friday morning commute began, backed traffic up for miles, blocking all lanes for over nine hours as cleanup crews worked to clear debris.
The first collision occurred at 3:50 a.m., when a person tried to cross the freeway on foot near 70th Avenue East in Milton and was hit by two northbound cars, according to Washington State Trooper Richard Reyer. The person died at the scene and has not been identified.
As the resulting traffic jam spread, the driver of a FedEx semitruck slammed into the back of another semitruck, which had stopped. The stopped truck contained 30,000 pounds of fish, Reyer said. The fish-carrying truck then hit a third semitruck, which was filled with heavy cream.
As passing drivers eased around the collision at 54th Avenue East, they drove through the leaked cream, “spreading that fatty goodness all over I-5,” Reyer said. “It basically created an ice rink.”
The spilled fish needed to be reloaded onto another truck. Because cream runoff can be toxic to fish in Puget Sound’s waterways, the mess left on the road by the dairy-carrying truck could not simply be hosed off, but instead needed to be scrubbed down using sweepers and sand.
Reyer said the driver of the FedEx truck could face noncriminal citations.
This is not the first time a truck’s cargo has compounded the impact of a highway crash. In 2015, an overturned semitruck released as many as 14 million bees onto the median of I-5 near Lynnwood. In a similar 2019 incident, a Cheesecake Factory semitruck carrying cheesecake and shrimp caught fire near Joint Base Lewis-McChord. In Depoe Bay, Oregon, Highway 101 was shut down in 2017 by a torrent of slime eels when a semitruck overturned.
To clean up the spills on I-5 Friday, crews employed a vactor truck to clear liquid and debris. The road remained closed until Friday afternoon, when northbound I-5’s two left lanes near 70th Avenue East reopened. WSDOT announced the reopening in a tweet posted at 1:32 p.m., and said cleanup efforts in the area would continue.
“While northbound I-5 in Fife has partially reopened, please be careful in the backups,” WSDOT warned drivers. “Another crash will only compound the situation. Much thanks to everyone who’s keeping a sharp eye on the road.”