Storm causes massive I-70 pileup

March 14, 1999

Building a snowmanBy KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI and RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writers

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

The heaviest snowfall of the year caused a massive pileup of cars, trucks and buses on Interstate 70 near Clear Spring Sunday, hospitalizing five people, injuring a dozen others and stranding dozens more for four hours.

An 18-month-old toddler was transferred to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore from Washington County Hospital. Details were not released Sunday night.

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Two other people were admitted to Washington County's trauma center, two others were admitted with lesser injuries while a dozen more were treated and released or released without needing treatment.


The accident occurred when a tractor-trailer jackknifed on the snow-covered highway, according to Lt. Warren Royce of the Clear Spring Volunteer Fire Department.

"The other cars followed in line," he said.

State police said 36 vehicles were involved, including four tractor-trailers, two buses and 30 cars and light trucks.

About 40 fire and ambulance companies from Maryland and West Virginia were called to mile marker 15 near Clear Spring to treat the injured, Royce said.

The snow started to fall in Washington County around 9 a.m. By the time the truck jackknifed at 1:15 p.m., about four inches had fallen. Maryland State Police issued a winter storm warning around noon on Sunday, which remains in effect.

One of the buses carried a St. Louis, Mo., high school band. State Police spokesman Pete Piringer said the band was returning to Missouri after performing in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., areas.

The other carried the entire Youngstown State men's baseball team. They were sitting in their bus under the Md. 68 bridge waiting to go home from a series against Towson University. The team lost the series, said team coach Mike Florek.

At 5 p.m., cars were backed up in the westbound lane for miles in both directions, turning the interstate into a giant parking lot.

People said they were tired of their ordeal, but holding up under the stress of being stranded and not knowing how much longer they'd be there.

Their major complaint was that no one with any authority was around to tell them what was happening.

Some of the stranded motorists took the delay in stride, throwing snowballs and making snowmen, according to state police.

Barbara Peonati and her son, Augustine, were milling around with other people under the Md. 68 bridge. They were on their way home to Pittsburgh from a skating meet in Baltimore.

Rhonda McMullen was on her way home to Kentucky. She was frantic to call home to tell her little boy that she was all right.

"He's expecting my call and my cell phone won't work here," she said.

Elinor Kennelly was on her way home to Indiana, Pa., from a visit with her sister in Reisterstown, Md. She was in the driver's seat finishing "Jewel," a novel by Brett Lott. "It's a great book."

The highway opened one lane of travel around 5:30 p.m. and both lanes by 8 p.m.

Three adults and one child took refuge at the Clear Spring Volunteer Fire Department, which set up a temporary shelter, said Royce.

Spokesmen from the Days Inn, Four Points Hotel Sheraton, Howard Johnson's and Quality Inn in Washington County all reported they were filled to capacity with travelers.

A check with area towing services showed most were busy throughout the day responding to state police calls for accidents and from motorists stuck in snow banks.

Kendra Field at Blue-Gray Towing in Hagerstown said eight of the company's trucks were dispatched to the Hancock area to help free vehicles in the Interstate 70 pile-up. Two of the trucks were still at the scene at 7 p.m., Field said.

A Bargain Towing of Boonsboro was also busy, a spokeswoman there said.

That company also sent trucks to Hancock, she said.

Paul "Red" Sigler, owner of Red's Towing in Hagerstown said he hasn't been as busy as he thought he might be in such a major storm.

"I'm busy, but not extremely, but the night is still young," he said.

related story:

-- Foot of snow blankets Tri-State

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