Did slick road cause turnpike crashes?

Nicole Puccino (above) of Doylestown talks to her sister after the massive accidents yesterday that shut down the Pennsylvania Turnpike for hours. Plenty of cars were wrecked in the early-morning pileup between Bensalem and Willow Grove.
Nicole Puccino (above) of Doylestown talks to her sister after the massive accidents yesterday that shut down the Pennsylvania Turnpike for hours. Plenty of cars were wrecked in the early-morning pileup between Bensalem and Willow Grove.
Posted: February 17, 2014

AFTER GETTING through a miserable couple of days that featured snow, ice and barren bread aisles at the supermarket, the last thing anyone in this region wanted to deal with was a nightmarish pileup on some highway, the kind that ends up on one of those can-you-believe-it segments on news stations across the country.

But that precise disaster played out about 8:30 a.m. yesterday on a stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike between Bensalem and Willow Grove, as separate chain-reaction crashes in the eastbound lanes sent at least 30 people to area hospitals with nonlife-threatening injuries, officials said.

The turnpike was closed for several miles in both directions near the accident scene until about 4 p.m.

Dana Goodman, of Havertown, said he got stuck at the back end of the crash site while on his way to his job at CarSense in Mount Holly, N.J.

He jumped out of his car and started to walk, posting pictures of the carnage on Twitter - overturned sedans, twisted tractor-trailers, smaller cars that suddenly resembled metal accordions.

"I've never seen anything like this. It was absolutely amazing," said Goodman, 43, who decided to travel on the turnpike because City Avenue was riddled with potholes.

"There was still ice on the turnpike," he said. "It wasn't salted at all, and people were driving 65, 70 miles per hour."

David Hill, 27, told the Associated Press that the road was "nothing but ice. . . . 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."

The region was clobbered by separate storms that brought snow, rain and then more snow during the 24 hours leading up to the pileup.

Neither blast of wintry weather was a surprise, though, so could the turnpike still have been in bad shape by the time folks started schlepping to work?

A 45 mph speed-limit restriction was lifted at 6 a.m., said Renee Vid Colborn, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

"Our crews were out there treating it before the accidents happened," she said. "We had reports that the road was clear enough to lift the restriction."

When told that motorists had described the turnpike as having been icy near the crash site, Colborn said: "The ice might have been building up while people were sitting there."

Pennsylvania State Police are investigating the separate crashes, each of which involved about 25 motorists. Sun glare might have played a role, too, officials said.

Dave Schrader, a spokesman for the Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania, said Red Cross workers from lower Bucks County and Montgomery County brought coffee, food, water and blankets to the dozens of drivers who were stranded on the turnpike through the morning and afternoon.

Colborn said turnpike maintenance workers also checked on the well-being of those stuck at the scene.

Vincent Sannuti, co-founder of the Philly-based clothing company Aphillyated Apparel, said he was driving on 2nd Street Pike in Southampton when he noticed people climbing over a highway overpass bridge to escape from the turnpike backup.

"It was wild seeing people climbing up that overpass," he said. "We stopped our vehicle to help pull them up." Sannuti, 24, said he saw at least two dozen people make the climb, then run to nearby businesses for food and restrooms.

Goodman said that many drivers who weren't injured in the pileup seemed to bond as their discussed their collective brush with death on the side of the road.

"My daughter just texted me and asked me what I was doing for my wife for Valentine's Day," he said. "I told her, 'I'm just going to try to get home safe.' "


On Twitter: @dgambacorta

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