CHICOPEE, Mass. (AP) – A New Hampshire truck driver has died after being severely burned during a tanker truck rollover and explosion on I-91 in Chicopee.

Aaron Staelens, 43, of Richmond died at about 8 p.m. on Friday night, according to a spokeswoman for Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Staelens had been flown to Mass. General after being treated at Bay State Medical Center in Springfield following the wreck Friday morning.

Staelens’ tanker crashed into a guardrail and exploded after a car collided with him and he veered to the right, state police said.

The driver of the car, Victor Aponte, 35, of Holyoke was issued a summons on Saturday to face charges including negligent motor vehicle homicide and reckless operation. Attempts to reach Aponte for comment by phone Saturday were unsuccessful.

Staelens worked for Abenaqui Carriers of North Hampton, N.H.

In a statement released Saturday, Abenaqui president Paul Marston said everyone at the company was saddened to learn of Staelens’ death.

“Aaron has been a respected driver in the tanker truck industry for more than 15 years,” he said. “Our thoughts are with Aaron’s family during this difficult time.”

Attempts to reach members of Staelens’ family were not immediately successful on Saturday.

The tanker was carrying 9,500 gallons of gasoline and 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel, the company said.

State Police Capt. Barry O’Brien said the accident happened after Aponte entered the highway and lost control of his car after it stalled briefly, then regained momentum. Aponte careered across the road, hitting another car. Aponte’s car then hit the tanker, which veered off the road, striking a guardrail and sign post.

The trailer separated from the tanker, rolled over the guardrail and down an embankment as the cab and trailer burst into flames, police said.

Witnesses said several drivers ran to pull Staelens from the burning cab, including some carrying blankets and jackets to smother the flames. But the fire drove everyone back.

O’Brien said Staelens eventually freed himself and ran ablaze through a “ring of fire” around the cab, before police and other drivers put out the flames.

A passenger in Aponte’s car received minor injuries in the crash.

The fire burned about 90 minutes after the crash, and smoke could be seen for miles.

AP-ES-03-29-08 1758EDT

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