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3 Interstate 81 crashes tie up traffic for hours

November 21, 2003|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

Three traffic accidents within 75 minutes turned much of northbound Interstate 81 in the Tri-State area into a sprawling parking lot as dusk fell Thursday.

The traffic woes spread to other roads in Washington County as motorists took exits to get off the snarled interstate.

Roads near I-81, including U.S. 11, U.S. 40, Maugans Avenue and Wesel Boulevard, among others, were clogged with cars, trucks and tractor-trailers.

"Ever since that backup in Pennsylvania, it was terrible," Hegedus said. "Everybody was trying to take (any road) off 81 northbound."

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State Police troopers from Maryland and Pennsylvania, as well as dozens of fire and emergency workers, responded to the wrecks on I-81 northbound.

The first accident occurred just before 3 p.m. at the State Line exit, Exit 1, of I-81 in Pennsylvania. In that accident, a tractor-trailer collided with a dump truck carrying thousands of pounds of corn, Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Daryl VanKirk said.

"It was more corn than I've ever seen in my life - it was interesting," VanKirk said.

That was followed by a two-vehicle collision near the U.S. 40 exit, Exit 6A, of I-81 in Maryland at about 4:07 p.m.

In that case, a car hit the back of a trailer.

The last of the three, also at about 4:07 p.m., occurred when a tractor, which was not hauling a trailer load, struck a concrete overpass just past the Halfway Boulevard exit, Exit 5, of the interstate.

As a result, traffic came to a standstill on I-81.

"From what I understand, it was backed up into West Virginia," VanKirk said.

VanKirk said neither driver involved in the Pennsylvania collision had life-threatening injuries. He said the tractor-trailer driver, Isaac Brumfield, 28, of 5933 Old Scotland Road in Shippensburg, Pa., was taken to Chambersburg (Pa.) Hospital with moderate injuries.

A Chambersburg Hospital spokesman said Brumfield was treated at the hospital and released.

The dump truck driver, Timothy Ammons, 27, of 238 E. Potomac St. in Williamsport, was taken to Washington County Hospital, VanKirk said.

A Washington County Hospital spokeswoman said Ammons was being treated in the emergency room, but his condition was not available late Thursday.

VanKirk said he was unsure of the severity of Ammons' injuries, although he said the driver had a broken ankle because his leg was pinned after the dump truck overturned.

VanKirk said both vehicles were traveling in the right lane when Brumfield's tractor-trailer struck the back of the dump truck.

"For whatever reason, the tractor-trailer rear-ended the dump truck, causing it to spin out of control into the embankment and tip over," VanKirk said.

The tractor-trailer traveled about 50 feet after the impact before tipping over onto the driver's side of the truck, which was hauling a load of Coors beer.

Although no beer leaked from the trailer, corn did spill all over the road from the dump truck, which was registered to carry 55,000 pounds of product, VanKirk said.

Cleanup was not finished until approximately 7 p.m.

"They had to bring farm equipment out to remove it from the roadway," VanKirk said.

VanKirk said the investigation would continue.

State Police investigators were not available for comment about either I-81 crash in Maryland late Thursday.

A Washington County 911 dispatcher said both occurred at approximately 4:07 p.m.

In the crash approaching the U.S. 40 exit of I-81, a tractor-trailer and a Mazda driven by Jeff Eakle collided.

Eakle, of Waynesboro, Pa., said he was unable to see the truck, likely because of glare from a car mirror, and struck the back of it.

"By the time I could see what was going on, it was too late," said Eakle, who was uninjured. "I tried to swerve, but I couldn't."

Eakle said no one was injured in the crash.

Police at the scene said they did not have time to comment because of mounting northbound traffic.

Meanwhile, southbound traffic on I-81 in Maryland also was slowed as motorists glanced at the commotion in several areas across the median.

Traffic delays mounted as the evening rush hour approached. In some cases, it took more than two hours to drive an eight-mile stretch of the interstate.

The interstate's shoulders were illuminated red as vehicles were trapped in the post-crash, rush-hour gridlock. Many motorists pulled to the side of the road and turned off their engines and lights.

Hegedus said troopers were dispersed to roadways other than I-81 as what he called a "crazy traffic night" produced 14 vehicle accidents in Washington County between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.

"There were all over the county, people just not paying attention," he said.

A Hagerstown Police Department dispatcher said city police had to deal with a lot of additional traffic.

"It was backed up all over the place," she said.

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