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Survivors say they're lucky to be alive

January 19, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

Larry Cyrus said he owes his life to a tractor-trailer driver who slammed into his car and pinned it against a guardrail during a fatal, multivehicle accident Monday on Interstate 70 near South Mountain.

The tractor-trailer formed a barrier between Cyrus' Chevrolet Cavalier and other vehicles as they crashed on the snow-covered road, he said. The tractor-trailer shielded him from two other semis that "otherwise would have gone right over me."

"I just held on to the steering wheel and waited," said Cyrus, 58, of St. Louis. "(The tractor-trailer's) fuel tanks were sitting in my passenger seat."

Cyrus said he eventually crawled out of his driver's-side window and went into the woods to avoid being hit.

Cyrus was one of 71 accident victims who were dropped off at the Red Cross of Washington County in Hagerstown to receive shelter after the pileup. The Red Cross provided the victims with blankets, food and hot beverages.

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Officials with the Maryland State Police also were at the Red Cross to gather statements and help accident victims find rental cars.

Nathaniel Bass, 30, of Detroit, said he and his fiancée, Monique Wright, were heading home from a weekend in Baltimore when they saw a woman on the road trying to flag them down.

"We tried to pull over, but the car just kept sliding," Bass said. "We slid into a tree in the woods."

Two cars crashed into their vehicle as they tried to free themselves from the wreckage, Bass said.

"We really didn't know what was going on," he said. "It just came up on us all at once. Our car is totaled."

Many of the accident victims at the Red Cross said a heavy snowfall limited their visibility to about one-eighth of a mile.

Luke Meinecke, 22, of Westminster, Md., said he saw "a bunch of brake lights" before the driver in front of him swerved off the road.

Meinecke began pumping his brakes and was able to stop about 10 yards behind the next vehicle, he said. Meinecke then got out and began helping people who were injured.

"I saw a husband and wife in the middle of the wreckage," Meinecke said. "The man had a cut on his head. The woman was OK."

Meinecke said he saw paramedics trying to get a pulse from a woman whose sport utility vehicle was pinned against a guardrail.

"She looked really bad," Meinecke said. "The paramedics said, 'She was gone.'"

Meinecke said the snow was falling heavily when the accident occurred.

"It looked like driving into a cloud," he said. "Some of the cars were so smashed, I couldn't tell their make. I don't know how I was able to get away without any injuries."

The state police reported that two people were killed in the accident, which happened at about 12:20 p.m. and involved roughly 50 vehicles.

Thirteen people were taken to the hospital, said Kevin Lewis, Washington County director of fire and emergency services.

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