5 deaths, dozens of accidents attributed to slick roads
Posted January 22, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — Wintry precipitation caused treacherous conditions on roads across the state Friday, and five deaths were attributed to slick conditions, according to the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.
The first three came Wednesday in single-car accidents where drivers lost control of their vehicles on icy roads.
Rosa Leake, of Kernersville, died when she drifted left of center on Vance Road in Forsyth County and struck a pickup truck head-on.
Mary Bondurant Williams, 60, of 1040 Wilburn Lane in King, died after her vehicle crossed the center line, drove down an embankment and overturned in a creek.
In Wilkes County, Joey Carl Darnell, 44, of North Wilkesboro, was the passenger in a vehicle involved in a head-on collision with a Nissan pickup truck. He was taken to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, where he later died.
The driver of the pickup was taken to the hospital with serious injuries.
State Highway Patrol Sgt. Michael Baker said a 4-year-old boy died Friday afternoon after the pickup truck carrying his family on Interstate 77 spun out of control and crashed. Baker says the crash happened just before 2 p.m. in Iredell County near Troutman.
Baker says the Ford pickup carrying two adults and their three children, all under 8 years old, slammed into a tow truck working to haul out a vehicle that had run off the highway earlier. Troopers say the boy was restrained in a child seat and died as a result of the impact.
The weather system that moved in early Friday dropped sleet, snow and freezing rain on roads across the state through the day, leaving major highways mostly slushy and passable, but surface streets in varying degrees of drivability.
In an alert issued Friday afternoon, the DOT said, "Interstates I-77, I-26 and I-85 and I-40 from Durham, NC, to Tennessee, are covered with snow and ice."
The DOT also advised caution on I-40 between Durham and Benson and I-95 from Rocky Mount to the Virginia line.
Interstate 85 in Vance County was shut down in both directions for hours after a tanker twisted and flipped over in a construction zone. It took until mid-afternoon until the fuel from the tanker was cleaned and lanes reopened.
In Durham, near Guess Road, an SUV lost control in front of a FedEx truck on I-85. The truck slid across lanes to avoid it and, although no one was hurt, the interstate was closed while the truck got back on track.
By early evening, I-85 and U.S. Highways 15 and 501 were visibly covered with snow.
"When you get off the main road, it can get dicey," WRAL meteorologist Nate Johnson said. Lanes were limited, even on primary roads like Wade Avenue and Edwards Mill in Raleigh.
Durham police counted 40 traffic accidents Friday, most of them involving single vehicles sliding on slick roads and none resulting in serious injuries. The Durham Couny Sheriff's Office reported six accidents.
Four people were taken to the hospital after their car slid into a utility pole on Camden Avenue in Durham. None of their injuries was said to be serious.
In Raleigh, an ambulance slid through a stop light on Peace Street and into a snow plow. No one was hurt, but the patient had to be transferred to another ambulance.
Gov. Pat McCrory said accidents were limited because most schools and businesses closed ahead of the storm, allowing drivers to stay home.
"I want to thank first the people of North Carolina for following the lead and staying off the roads," he said Friday morning before asking them to continue to operate with caution.
"Where I'm seeing the accidents is where it looks like it's a safe road, and people are speeding because they assume its safe because they don't see snow on the roads. That's our greatest concern right now," McCrory said.
During what would have been the afternoon rush hour, traffic was much lighter than normal on area roads, Johnson said.
By 4 p.m., precipitation had changed from freezing rain and sleet to rain in the Triangle as temperatures rose past the freezing mark.
"We've got snow-covered roads up toward the Virginia state line," Johnson said. Major routes in Raleigh were slush covered, and any rain that falls through the evening could wash some of that away.
State Secretary of Transportation Nick Tennyson said his drivers prepared the interstates with nearly 2 million gallons of brine – the salt and water mix which bonds to asphalt and keeps ice from sticking – and planned to add 12,000 tons of salt and 5,000 tons of sand/salt mixture to improve traction.
Tennyson said crews can't be everywhere at once, but they're trying to make sure the highest-volume areas are being handled first. The state's priority is interstates, then primary routes, then lower-volume, secondary roads.
Britt McCurry, a Wake County maintenance engineerm said the continuing precipitation was inhibiting efforts to clear roads.
"The main issue we're having is when we go through an area and apply the salt, even at the temperature we're at now, it's still able to activate and do what we need it to do. The issue is when we come back and push it off, with the constant precipitation, it doesn't take it long to accumulate again," she said.
Air travel into and out of North Carolina was also at a virtual standstill. Many major airlines canceled flights ahead of the storm.
At Raleigh-Durham International Airport, an estimated 400 flights were canceled or delayed. Two carriers – Delta and Allegiant Air continued to operate, taking turns on the sole open runway.
Even those flights able to get out were not running on schedule.
A couple from Burlington, bound for a cruise ship in Florida, spent the day at RDU waiting for their flight.
"When we pulled in here, there was no snow on the ground and I thought we'd be good to go," the husband said. But two hours after their scheduled departure, they were still waiting.
A family from Philadelphia made it as far as RDU before getting stranded, halfway to vacation in the Florida Keys. They planned to spend Friday night in Raleigh in hopes that they could continue their trip on Saturday.
Airlines also operated a limited schedule at Fayetteville Regional Airport and at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
With the storm continuing through the weekend across the northeast, airport representatives advised anyone with travel plans to check with their airline before leaving the house.