The southbound lanes of Interstate 65 south of Columbus were shut down most of Tuesday afternoon after two accidents closed the interstate and caused traffic backups from Edinburgh to the Walesboro exit.

The shutdown was the result of a chain reaction after a property-damage accident happened about 1 p.m. in the southbound interstate lanes about 2 miles south of the Columbus exit at the 66-mile marker, said Lt. Matt Harris, Columbus Police Department spokesman.

As southbound traffic slowed near that accident, a semi pulling a tanker rear-ended another semi with a box trailer that had slowed or stopped in the southbound lanes, and another car was sideswiped, blocking the interstate at the 67.5-mile marker, Harris said.

The box trailer was carrying life insurance bulk mail, which spilled across the interstate and beneath the semis, Harris said.

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The driver of the tanker, Shawn B. Beeman, 36, North Vernon, was extricated by Columbus firefighters and taken to Columbus Regional Hospital and later transferred to Methodist Hospital, Indianapolis. His condition was not available at Republic deadline. Beeman was conscious when taken out of the cab, Harris said.

Beeman suffered possible head injuries that could be life-threatening, said Sgt. Stephen Wheeles, Indiana State Police spokesman.

Beeman’s vehicle collided with the rear of a semi driven by Patrick R. Russell, 54, Campbellsville, Kentucky, who was not injured, Wheeles said. That collision caused Russell’s semi to hit a 2011 Cadillac driven by Kelli J. Buckley, 39, Trafalgar, who was not injured, he said.

The fire department’s hazardous materials unit cleaned up what was described as a significant diesel fuel spill, said Capt. Mike Wilson, fire department spokesman. A 50-gallon diesel fuel saddle tank on the tanker semi ruptured after the collision and spilled nearly all the fuel across the pavement. Firefighters used a material similar to fine peat moss to absorb the fuel, he said.

During the extrication, Wilson said firefighters found that the tanker cab was held together only by the top of the chassis, Wilson said. After the driver was out, a wrecker hauled the cab off the front of the semi, leaving the engine sitting on the pavement as it had separated from the engine mounts in the collision.

Columbus police and Indiana State Police rerouted southbound traffic off the interstate at U.S. 31 near Edinburgh and State Road 46 in Columbus.

But traffic backups were then reported on State Road 11 southbound to Seymour, which many of the drivers headed for to find a way back to the interstate, or at least to continue south.

Traffic was being directed south on State Road 11 to County Road 450S, where drivers could get back on southbound I-65.

However, an accident with injuries on County Road 450S was reported at about 3 p.m., causing further gridlock, police said. U.S. 31 drivers were delayed by another accident with injuries on Lowell Road and U.S. 31 at about 3:30 p.m., police said.

I-65 southbound lanes were reopened at about 5:45 p.m., police said.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.