Weather

Slick Roads Lead to Dozens of Wrecks, 1 Fatality

Posted December 7, 2007 6:39 a.m. EST
Updated December 7, 2007 8:54 p.m. EST

— 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.