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W.Va. crash kills three

July 11, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Three people were killed Wednesday in a crash involving seven vehicles - including a dump truck - on the W.Va. 9 bridge over Opequon Creek near Baker Heights, police said.

Cpl. Ronald Gardner of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department said the victims included two men from the Charles Town, W.Va., area and a woman whose hometown was unknown.

The sheriff's department was not releasing the victims' names Wednesday night because their families had not been contacted.

At about 5 p.m., Mike Stahl, who lives at the Mankeet campsite near the bridge, was in a van with his wife at the end of the campsite driveway, waiting to turn onto W.Va. 9, when the dump truck went by.

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Stahl said the dump truck, which was traveling west towards Martinsburg, hit a black Toyota Corolla going west, just after the Corolla crossed the bridge.

"He hit her and threw her sideways," Stahl said. He didn't know if either vehicle had crossed lanes into the other's path.

The dump truck, which had B.W. Strobridge Trucking in Martinsburg painted on the driver's side front door, continued onto the bridge, hitting at least four other vehicles, police said.

The final one was a red Jeep that crumpled under the dump truck's grill, leaving it unrecognizable except for the tires.

Police said the woman driving the Corolla was one of the people killed.

A man apparently thrown from his vehicle onto the bridge roadway was also killed.

The third victim, in the Jeep, was not extricated until a few hours later because the vehicle was badly mangled.

Police said the driver of the dump truck - whom they also would not identify - did not appear to be seriously hurt.

Berkeley County Sheriff W. Randy Smith said three accident reconstruction experts were working at the scene.

W.Va. 9 was closed off in both directions around the bridge for several hours and traffic was diverted to detours.

The accident wreckage stretched from one end of the bridge to the other.

One car sat sideways at the east end off the eastbound lane.

In the westbound lane, a Ford Expedition sport utility vehicle with front-end damage sat to the east, around the middle of the bridge. Another car came next, then the dump truck and the Jeep mashed together.

A Chevrolet Corsica with its hood folded up in the middle sat behind the Jeep.

Chief Deputy Kenneth Lemaster of the sheriff's department said seven vehicles were involved in the crash.

Shortly after the crash, a white sheet was draped over part of the Jeep wreckage, covering the occupant who had died.

Another sheet covered the body lying on the bridge.

A brown baseball cap, a cigarette lighter and miscellaneous car parts were strewn everywhere. Accident investigators drew circles on the pavement around some of the larger pieces to mark their paths.

A tow truck driver who helped clean up the debris said, "I've never seen one scattered like this."

As W.Va. 9 goes west toward Martinsburg, it reaches a crest, then drops and curves to the right as it reaches the Opequon bridge. There is a "no passing zone" sign before the bridge.

Carlisle said there have been some bad accidents along that stretch.

Carlisle and Stahl said a lot of drivers speed near the bridge. The road needs to be improved or there could be more crashes, they said.

"How many deaths is it going to take before they get it?" Carlisle asked.

Lemaster said the sheriff's department has set up occasional designated patrols on W.Va. 9 and U.S. 11 to catch speeders. A grant is funding the police overtime for that work, he said.

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