Justin Strzelczyk, a former player for the Pittsburgh Steelers, died yesterday in a fiery head-on collision with a tanker truck in Herkimer, N.Y., after he led state troopers on a 40-mile highway chase during morning rush hour.

State police identified Strzelczyk , 36, an offensive lineman with the Steelers for nearly a decade until the team released him in February 2000.

Troopers said Strzelczyk crashed his pickup truck into the westbound tanker carrying corrosive acid just moments after swerving around a tractor-trailer that pulled across the highway to block the eastbound lanes. Strzelczyk drove 15 miles on three tires and a rim after one of his pickup's tires was punctured by metal spikes thrown into the road by troopers.

Strzelczyk, who lived in McCandless, Pa., near Pittsburgh, had been involved in another minor accident about an hour earlier just west of Syracuse, which started the bizarre turn of events.

The hit-and-run occurred about 7:20 a.m. and state police put out an alert for Strzelczyk's pickup. Troopers spotted him about 40 minutes later still heading east on the Thruway.

A second unit tried to stop the pickup by booby-trapping the road with the "stop sticks," but Strzelczyk just kept on going. The pickup was clocked at 88 mph.

"He was going down the road, flipping off the troopers. He even threw a beer bottle at them," said Jim Simpson, a state police spokesman.

A trucker saw the chase and pulled his rig across the road. Instead of stopping, the pickup drove across the grass median into the westbound lanes and traveled about three miles in the wrong direction before the deadly crash.

The collision with the tanker occurred at about 8:15 a.m. while the highway was busy with morning commuters and travelers. The driver of the tanker suffered only minor injuries. No one else was hurt.

The 6-foot-3, 309-pound Strzelczyk, who grew up in a suburb of Buffalo, was an 11th-round pick from Maine in the 1990 draft. He spent nine years with the Steelers and played in the 1995 Super Bowl.

-- From News Services

Former Steeler Justin Strzelczyk was killed when his pickup crashed into a tanker truck following a 40-mile chase in New York. STRZELCZYK