Monday, March 3, 2014
Police: Road conditions factor in turnpike accident
Posted: Friday, February 14, 2014
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission lifted speed restrictions and truck bans early Friday — two hours before a serious chain reaction pileup involving nearly 100 cars — because its maintenance crews reported the highway was “treated and clear of snow.”
But road conditions along the highway played a factor in the accidents, which were reported around 8 a.m., according to Pennsylvania State Police.
State police spokesman Trooper Adam Reed said late Friday several factors led to the crash.
“The causes are slick roadways, people following too closely for conditions and bright sun glare. It takes just one person to make a mistake and then a crash occurs,” he said.
Commission spokeswoman Mimi Doyle said that maintenance crews continued to travel the turnpike treating “trouble spots,” after the 45-mph speed restriction and ban on certain commercial and non-commercial trailers were lifted at 6 a.m.
Many of the motorists left stranded for hours on the turnpike reported icy road conditions following Thursday and Friday’s storms that dumped a foot of snow onto the Philadelphia region.
“If you had to put the brakes on, you could feel it sliding under you,” said Christine Wink, of Conshohocken, who was stranded three miles from the Bensalem exit.
Twenty-seven people were injured in traffic accidents involving multiple tractor-trailers and dozens of cars. The wrecks stranded hundreds of drivers for hours along an 8-mile stretch of the eastbound Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Both turnpike lanes between the Bensalem and Willow Grove interchanges were reopened by 4 p.m. Friday.
Before the turnpike reopened, though, Bensalem police were allowing only emergency vehicles to enter the eastbound turnpike. All other traffic was directed to Route 13 where motorists could get on the turnpike in Bristol Township to continue to New Jersey, Doyle said.
With some motorists stranded for more than three hours, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission began alleviating the backed-up eastbound traffic around 11:30 a.m. Turnpike workers removed concrete barriers between the eastbound and westbound lanes so drivers could be turned around and directed to exit at the Willow Grove interchange, then follow the detour to get back to Bensalem, Doyle said.
A tractor-trailer that was blocking all eastbound lanes was moved so trapped drivers could get past the scene in the left lane and continue east. Disabled commercial vehicles remained on the highway, but all backlogged passenger vehicles were removed. Wreckers removed disabled vehicles.
Pennsylvania State Police spokesman Adam Reed did not yet have a firm figure for the number of accidents that occurred, but it’s believed to be close to 100, Reed said, though only a handful resulted in serious injuries.
The injured were taken to area hospitals, but none of the injuries were life threatening, according to Reed and turnpike spokesman Bill Capone. Five of the 30 people had what were described as “serious” injuries, Reed said.
At Abington Memorial, a spokeswoman reported 16 people were receiving treatment for non-life-threatening injuries. Kate Smith, of St. Mary Medical Center, said seven people were hospitalized from the turnpike accidents — four women and three men.
“They are being evaluated now but they do appear to be minor injuries,” Smith said. No further information is being provided on the injuries.
Three people were taken to Doylestown Hospital following the crash. All sustained minor injuries, according to Diane Blackman, a charge nurse at the hospital. As of 12:30 p.m. Friday, two had been treated and released and the third was expected to be released shortly, she said.
Sitting in Abington’s emergency room waiting area, her arms crossed, a visibly shaken woman said that her husband was involved in the crash and that she was waiting for news of his condition. She declined further comment.
The turnpike closure forced vehicles onto eastbound Street Road through Feasterville. Street Road was backed up for about two miles with the overflow. Eastbound Street Road through Upper Southampton also was heavily congested.
The westbound turnpike lanes weren’t shut down until shortly before 11:30 a.m., Doyle said, though emergency responders and firefighters were using those lanes to get to the injured.
“We don’t like to shut down the road if we don’t have to,” Doyle said, adding that since so many first responders were using the westbound lanes “at this point it’s just easier to close it down,” she said.
Pedro Leal, a project manager at Image One Industries in Bensalem, said traffic was moving slowly near the Willow Grove exit. He was doing about 30 mph and there was a half-inch or an inch of ice on the roadway.
As they neared an overpass at mile-marker 348, drivers started slamming on the brakes. He was lucky. He moved into the left lane and his car didn’t get a scratch. But a lot of the cars around him did.
He saw one woman leave on a stretcher. Her red car had overturned in the series of collisions.
“I commute Monday to Friday and the glare is really bad between the Willow Grove and Bensalem exits,” Leal said. “Maybe with the mixed reflection of the water and snow and ice with the usual glare people couldn’t see far enough to know they had to stop.”
Ismael Hermie Rivera, 47, of Bristol, was driving in the westbound lane of the turnpike on his way to his job at ADT in Willow Grove when the crash occurred.
“It was just car after car after car crashing; then here comes this truck,” he said. “I’m seeing cars flip in that lane, then a car in front of me slips on black ice and he gets in an accident.”
Cliff Tuma of East Norriton, Montgomery County, and some coworkers with Berks Painting and Renovations of Conshohocken provided a valuable service for motorists stuck on the roadway.
Tuma and his fellow workers were in their van heading east to a job in Northeast Philadelphia when they came to a standstill west of the Bensalem interchange. They got stuck at 8:30 a.m. Friday and as of 12:30 p.m. still hadn’t moved.
Tuma and the others covered their van’s windows with a drop cloth and let those desperate to urinate do so in the back of the van — something a few women had taken advantage of, Tuma said.
He said people who were stuck and onlookers were looking for ways to help each other.
“We’ve had people coming down from an overpass handing out pizza and water and other things to people who are stuck,” he said.
David Hill, 27, was about a mile back and had turned his car off to save gas. Given the nearest exit was about 2½ miles away, he anticipated being there for hours.
“There’s no possible way,” he said. “I’m stuck.”
Hill, who works for a wealth management company, said he wasn’t surprised there was an accident.
“I got on the turnpike and it was nothing but ice,” he said. “I was very surprised at the condition of it. Normally the turnpike is one of the first roads that’s cleared, but today I was driving on solid ice.”
Meanwhile the southbound Northeast Extension was the scene of a wreck between the Lansdale and Mid-County toll plazas around the same time Friday as the chain reaction pileup on the eastbound turnpike.
Bob Gregg of West Chester also said he was not surprised the chain reaction crashes happened.
“All along the way there were nice patches of road and then icy patches,” Gregg said of his trip from West Chester east.
He was preparing to get off at the Bensalem exit of the turnpike to go to his job off Street Road when the accident happened.
Gregg was among the hundreds of people stranded behind the accidents between the Bensalem and Willow Grove interchanges.
After about three hours of waiting in the backup, Gregg and a handful of other people climbed an embankment to an overpass that carries Second Street Pike over the turnpike in Upper Southampton.
He walked to a nearby Subway to get a meatball hoagie and chocolate chip cookie to bring back to his car and continue waiting.
Gregg said no one around him was injured in the massive pileup and everyone caught up in the backup checked to make sure their fellow travelers were OK.
He said a woman in front of him had an infant with her. She called some friends who came to the Second Street Pike overpass to get the baby from her and she went back to wait until she was able to resume driving her car.
Wayne Fortmeier was among the many area residents who were drawn Friday to overpasses to check out the damage below on the eastbound turnpike.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Fortmeier, a Lower Southampton resident.
He watched as first responders checked drivers and passengers in five vehicles that collided just before the overpass that carries Buck Road over the turnpike.
“It’s a miracle that nobody got killed,” he said.