Truck Crash Closes Ventura Freeway : Thousand Oaks: Area merchants call the traffic jam on the roadway and side streets the worst they had ever seen.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A big-rig truck flipped over on the Ventura Freeway in Thousand Oaks on Tuesday, closing down the freeway and causing traffic tie-ups and gridlock along the highway and neighboring side streets for hours.

Tempers flared and cars overheated as some motorists were delayed for hours. Merchants in the area said it was the worst traffic jam they had ever seen.

The accident occurred at 12:20 p.m. when the tractor-trailer, traveling south near Lynn Road, smashed into the median and flipped over onto the northbound lanes, setting off a small fire, said Sheriff's Deputy Randy Pentis.

Driver Kenneth King, 36, of Signal Hill was taken to Los Robles Regional Medical Center, where he was treated for minor injuries and released. No other vehicles were involved in the accident, which apparently was caused by a blown-out tire on the big rig.

The accident forced the closure of the northbound lanes of the freeway for nearly five hours, authorities said. Two southbound lanes were closed for more than an hour and the third for three hours.

Freeway traffic backed up as much as two miles in both directions as sheriff's deputies and California Highway Patrol officers diverted vehicles onto city streets and nearby California 23.

Gridlock reigned at almost every intersection on Hillcrest Drive and Thousand Oaks Boulevard, the two main east-west thoroughfares in Thousand Oaks.

"It killed my business," said Kamran Torabian, who owns a Chevron gas station on Thousand Oaks Boulevard. He said he lost about a third of his business because the intersection at Moorpark Road was jammed bumper to bumper.

"It was slower than even on a Sunday," Torabian said.

Among Torabian's few customers were John and Sheryl Coleman of Bakersfield, who stopped to get directions to Camarillo via back roads.

"It was a mess," John Coleman said. "It was a lesson in frustration."

Motorist Troy Stutzman of Chino Hills said he was driving his pickup directly behind the big rig when the accident occurred. Stutzman said he heard one of the truck's tires explode before the vehicle turned over.

"He was in front of me and all of a sudden I heard this loud boom," Stutzman said. "He started to swerve to the left, then he went right and lost control. He smashed into the center divider and rolled over."

Stutzman said he and several other motorists stopped their cars and ran to the truck to help the driver. He said some passersby had fire extinguishers in their cars and helped douse the flames that erupted from diesel fuel spilled on the road.

King's boss, Jim McDonald of Highland Corod Co. of Huntington Beach, said later that the truck's left front tire blew out and caused the vehicle to flip over.

"It was miraculous that no one else was hurt, with his smashing into the center divider and ending up in opposing traffic like that, " McDonald said.

He said that the truck, outfitted with oil-drilling equipment, was traveling from Ventura to Wilmington. He said the vehicle, which was insured for $500,000, was totaled and was being towed to a scrap yard in Simi Valley.

Times correspondent Robyn Loewenthal contributed to this story.

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