Winter storm brings accidents and plenty of travel headaches

Wednesday's evening commute was treacherous for motorists as snow, sleet, freezing rain and ice caused many accidents and headaches across the Triangle.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — After snow changed to sleet Wednesday afternoon and gridlock set in across the Triangle, residents of the Duke Park neighborhood in Durham set out to serve their neighbors.

“We are so close to (Interstate) 85 that we grouped together and thought about ways we could help,” said Michelle Old.

She and her neighbors checked on stranded motorists along the highway near Roxboro Road with peanut butter crackers and protein bars in hand.

“Once we put it out on the listserv they really rallied around this issue,” she said. “It was instantaneous.”

For hours, gridlock

Across the Triangle, traffic slowed to a standstill as snow, then ice, blanketed roads in the fast-falling mix that caught many in mid-commute.

By 1:30 p.m., traffic along Western Boulevard, Lake Wheeler Road, Atlantic Avenue and other main Raleigh roads came to a standstill due to slippery conditions and vehicle accidents.

Major highways, including Interstates 40 and 540 and the Durham Freeway, were closed at some point due to the weather. U.S. Highway 401 south of Raleigh and Interstate 85 through Durham continued to be trouble spots late into the evening.

The Triangle briefly resembled the Atlanta gridlock of a few weeks ago, but by evening most drivers had reached their destinations.

 Many accidents, one fatality

Law enforcement was stretched so thin as officers directed traffic, responded to accidents and closed roads that the Raleigh Police Department asked drivers not to call unless people were hurt.

“A police unit should be dispatched to an accident scene if personal injuries are involved or the vehicles are creating a hazard and cannot be moved,” police said. “If the vehicles are disabled, but not blocking the roadway, communications should simply telephone a wrecker of the driver’s choice.”

At least 50 wrecks were reported in Cary, along with 26 calls from motorists with disabled vehicles.

"Thankfully, we staged plows and spreaders throughout Cary, so we're able to deal more effectively with some of the jams," Cary Public Works Director Scott Hecht said.

Durham 911 operators received over 600 calls for service between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., and Durham police responded to 121 accidents as of Wednesday afternoon.

State troopers responded to over 1,300 calls for service by Wednesday evening, including a fatal accident in Chatham County.

Miguel Arquimides Caseres, 45, of Siler City, was traveling south on Silk Hope Road Wednesday afternoon when he lost control of his 1996 Ford passenger vehicle, traveled left of center and into the path of a 1999 Chevrolet, authorities said. The front passenger in the Chevrolet died.

Caseres was charged with misdemeanor death by a motor vehicle and exceeding a safe speed. Troopers have not released the name of the victim, pending next of kin notification.

 McCrory: Stay smart, stay home

Governor Pat McCrory advised state workers not involved with public health, safety or emergency operations to stay home Thursday.

“Weather conditions will only get worse overnight across our state and I want to re-emphasize that people should stay off the roads,” he said in a statement. “We are under a state of emergency.”

Over 200 state Department of Transportation trucks were out clearing and salting Wake County roads Wednesday evening, said Mike Charbonneau, DOT spokesman.

"At this point, our mission is to get out and hit every major roadway," he said. "If you don't have to be on the roadways, please stay off of them for your safety and for our crews to clear."

The National Guard worked with law enforcement Wednesday night to search for stranded motorists along interstates and major roads in Wake County. Those found were either taken to shelters at Apex Methodist Church, Garner United Methodist Church or Knightdale High School.

Public transportation affected

Capital Area Transit will operate on a Sunday schedule Thursday due to slick roads.

Triangle Transit service is tentatively scheduled to start at 7 a.m. Thursday. DATA and Bull City Connector (Durham) service is tentatively scheduled to start at 9 a.m. C-Tran service (Cary) is canceled for Thursday.

Early morning flights out of Raleigh-Durham International Airport Thursday were canceled. The first departure is scheduled for 11 a.m. but many airlines will not resume flights until mid to late afternoon.

All JetBlue flights Thursday are canceled.

Both RDU runways are open but passengers are advised to contact their airline prior to traveling to the airport.


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