Slick Roads Lead to Dozens of Wrecks, 1 Fatality

Posted December 7, 2007

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— A wintry mix of precipitation moved through the Triangle early Friday, and glazed bridges caused at least one fatality and forced the closing of parts of Interstate 40, U.S. 70 and U.S. 401.

A small amount of wet snow, snow flurries and freezing rain fell across the region early Friday, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a winter weather advisory for more than a dozen area counties.

The wet, icy weather produced slick roads and bridges that caused dozens of wrecks and slowed the morning commute to a crawl – if not complete stop.

The state Highway Patrol responded to 130 calls between 5:30 and 10:30 a.m. Friday, which is about five times the total on an average day, Lt. Everett Clendenin said. At the peak of the troubles at about 7:30 a.m., troopers were handling about 65 wrecks, and administrators and troopers usually not assigned to handle wrecks were called on to help clear the backlog, he said.

Troopers were still working on about 35 wrecks at about 10 a.m., Clendenin said.

State Department of Transportation trucks were dispatched Friday morning to dump sand and salt on highway bridges and overpasses to improve traction.

"The roadways may look clear. You may think it's just wet moisture on the roadway, but it's a thin layer of ice in some spots," Clendenin said, urging drivers to slow down and exercise caution.

A chain-reaction wreck on U.S. Highway 70 at Turnage Road near Smithfield left Luis Mendoza, 30, dead and closed westbound U.S. 70 for more than an hour, authorities said.

A sport utility vehicle was rear-ended by another car as it slowed for traffic, and the driver of the second car was returning to his car after checking on the SUV driver when a third vehicle went out of control and skidded into the stopped vehicles, according to the Highway Patrol. Mendoza was pinned by the third vehicle against the highway guardrail, authorities said.

No other major injuries were reported in the slew of wrecks across the region.

A series of wrecks at mile markers 311 and 315 forced authorities to close I-40 in both directions near the Wake-Johnston county line, backing westbound traffic up to the Interstate 95 interchange in Benson. The interstate was reopened shortly before 9:30 a.m.

"I've been sitting here, I know, over an hour, probably close to an hour and a half," driver Reggie Woodard said as he waited for the traffic jam to clear.

"I'm just trying to get to work," driver Lonzell McKenzie said with a sigh.

"I just turned my car off and decided to talk with the guy who got out of the next vehicle," driver Sherlene Hankins said.

Six wrecks, including two rollovers, occurred on one I-40 bridge near Exit 312.

"It just happened so fast," said Susan Bilbrey, whose car went through a guardrail on I-40 and down a wooded embankment. "We just started sliding, and that was it from there.

"It was a bad morning, something I've never been in."

Two tractor-trailers were reported overturned on I-40 near mile marker 323, which also blocked traffic farther south in Johnston County.

Several accidents also were reported on N.C. Highway 42 near Cornwallis Road in northwest Johnston County.

"There's multiple wrecks going on all over the place," Clayton EMS Chief Stefan Fehr said.

A head-on collision on the Neuse River bridge in north Raleigh closed Falls of Neuse Road in one direction for about two hours, delaying school buses headed for Wakefield schools. A northbound vehicle lost control, hit a guardrail and went back across the road to collide with a southbound vehicle.

U.S. Highway 401 between Fuquay-Varina and Garner also was slowed by five accidents in the north and southbound lanes involving nine cars near Legend Road.

Wake County school system spokesman Michael Evans said there were no reports of major problems with school buses or teens driving to school Friday morning.

Southbound Interstate 85 was closed at the Granville-Durham county line for a while because of a wreck, and several wrecks were reported on interstate bridges in Granville and Vance counties.

About 10 accidents were reported on U.S. Highway 1 between Moncure and Apex, as bridges were covered with a light glaze. U.S. 1 was limited to one lane in each direction for about an hour at the Chatham-Lee county line, where about a half-dozen accidents were reported.

"We've had a lot of people slipping on these bridges," said Trooper Fred Trueblood, of the state Highway Patrol.

One person who stopped to assist other drivers involved in a wreck on U.S. 1 jumped into the Deep River to avoid skidding traffic, authorities said. The person was taken to a nearby hospital, but there was no word on the person's condition.

A fast-moving upper-level disturbance brought the light precipitation, which tapered off by 8 a.m. as the system moved east of the Triangle, WRAL Meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner said.

"It hasn't taken much to cause all of these problems," Gardner said. "The bulk of the precipitation was actually to our north."

Temperatures warmed above freezing by mid-morning, and high temperatures in the low to mid 50s were forecast later in the day, she said.

On Wednesday morning, a low-pressure system from the northwest brought snow flurries across the Triangle. A trace of precipitation was recorded at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, but temperatures remained above freezing and the snow melted before hitting the ground.


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  • egriffin8278 Dec 8, 2007

    This is one that caught us all off guard. I don't blame anyone for what all happened this morning, except mother nature for not following the computer models. There wasn't really anyway for the school transporation directors to know icing was going to occur because it didn't start until after the buses started running. Lets think about the consequences of immediately turning the buses around? Who will be home to take care of the kids since many of us leave right after our kids are picked up.

  • Jokers Wild II Dec 7, 2007

    Leave it to you raleigh folks.. yall are some NON driving people,lol. I was in Raleigh the first part of 2007 and it was hardly snowing, anyways I counted 61 cars in the ditch between rocky mount and the new bern avenue.. Slow down, pay attention.. 440 is the road name not the speed limit folks..

  • New York Yankee Dec 7, 2007

    Man...I am glad I rolled back over and went back to sleep.

  • Nancy Dec 7, 2007

    "Wake County Schools never makes good decisions when it comes to bad weather."

    The person who makes that decision is the head of WCPS Transportation. They are also the one responsible for calling school to let out early in inclement weather.

  • patrickandaiden Dec 7, 2007

    Reminds me of 2005... 1 inch of snow shut down every major roadway in Raleigh...


    I would have to say that many if not most so called "ACCIDENTS" are the result if incompetence, and poor judgement.

    Is it just me or has anyone else noticed the inrceasing amounts of Rollover Wrecks lately ?


    Things that DO NOT matter when driving in wintry conditions.

    Heritage, Place of birth, Age, Gender, Race, Color, Ethnicity, Distance, Destination, Weather report, Time of day or night, Temperature, Radio, Cellphone...

    Things that DO matter when driving in wintry conditions.


    Many people who are licensed to drive are just Wheel Holders. They are not competent in their ability to operate a motor vehicle under ideal weather conditions much less extreme weather conditions. It's not about bad weather it's about incompetent drivers. What difference if any does it really make what is or is not reported in the news? So what if they didn't report rain, ice, snow, flood, hurricane, blizzard, monsoon, earthquake or volcano.

    What is important is when you step outside, make your own judgement of the weather conditions and plan your driving accordingly. It's really rather simple, all you've got to do is open your eyes.

  • oldrebel Dec 7, 2007

    "About 10 accidents were reported on U.S. Highway 1 between Moncure and Apex, as bridges were covered with a light glaze. U.S. 1 was limited to one lane in each direction for about an hour at the Chatham-Lee county line, where about a half-dozen accidents were reported.One person who stopped to assist other drivers involved in a wreck on U.S. 1 jumped into the Deep River to avoid skidding traffic, authorities said." I say with deep conviction, this was one brave soul. That is one heckuva jump with the bridge being that high, and if you're lucky enough to hit sufficient water instead the rocks below...yes, this was one brave individual. A shame the story didn't include the person's name so they could receive more than an anoynomous footnote.

  • jennylou Dec 7, 2007

    I thought it was ridiculous that Wake County Schools were not delayed today. My daughter's bus driver picked her up at 7:15, we live 20 minutes from the school, and they didn't get to school until 9:20. There could have been many school bus accidents this morning. Wake County Schools never makes good decisions when it comes to bad weather.

  • leo-nc Dec 7, 2007

    "It's amazing to me that all of the media was "dumbfounded" by the ice situation this morning. With all of the weather technologies that are out there that the T.V stations boast about during the program day you would think that somebody could get the forecast right before we go to bed at night. It's sad to think that someone got up for work this morning and never made it to his or her workplace because they didn't know there was ice out there. I also really feel bad about the person who died this morning and what that family is going through right now.."

    I was out there and your comments are unfounded. There is almost no way to know what happened. The rain was very light and black ice accumulated on the bridges. The roads looked slightly wet and that was it. Most people would think it was just a light rain and not worry about it. What they didn't plan for is that it was barely cold enough to freeze on the bridges and take everyone by surprise.