Archive for Monday, February 15, 2010

Authorities, drivers still face numerous headaches after weekend pileups

February 15, 2010, 1:26 p.m. Updated February 15, 2010, 7:04 p.m.


Sunday pile-up causing continuing confusion

Those involved in Sunday afternoon's massive pile-ups on Interstate 70 are still trying to sort out information regarding their vehicles. Enlarge video

In a matter of seconds, Susan Nadeau felt her car slide into a vehicle vise on ice.

A few minutes later, John Brubaker received a call for assistance.

And it wouldn’t be until the next day that Ron King would learn one of his insurance clients also had been in the middle of it all.

Blinding snow on Sunday sparked major chain-reaction accidents on the Kansas Turnpike, ones that would ensnare more than 70 vehicles, snarl traffic for hours, command resources throughout northeast Kansas and even draw attention nationwide.

Now it’s time to sort through the mess that few could have expected.

“It is a miracle — absolutely, a miracle,” said Nadeau, whose year-old Toyota Corolla wedged between a deli truck and a concrete wall before being slammed from behind in what would become a seven-vehicle chain of destruction. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Few have.


Michael Johnston, CEO of the Kansas Turnpike Authority, described the turnpike accidents as “the (Almost) St. Valentine Day Massacre,” a combination that saw 45 vehicles in the westbound lanes and another 30 or so in the eastbound lanes near Kansas Highway 7 and elsewhere in the region engage in “bumper tag taken to another level.”

John Claxton, chief of Bonner Springs Emergency Services, had two paramedics and three EMTs working one of the pileups — one that sent about 15 people to area hospitals, a relative few considering the conditions.

To transport those whose cars were disabled, Bonner Springs schools sent two school buses. A couple of area transit vans also joined the multijurisdictional effort.

“It’s something that you train for (and) hope it never happens, but it did happen,” Claxton said.

Troopers with the Kansas Highway Patrol were still compiling information Monday — working to piece together not only what happened, but what to do now.

“Trying to get all of this gathered has been kind of humorous,” said Trooper Howard Dickinson, indicating the confusion involved with documenting accidents involving so many cars. “We’ve got cars that don’t have any drivers.”


Accidents close I-70, strand motorists

Icy roads caused about 40 vehicles to slide and collide with one another Sunday afternoon. Westbound lanes were closed as crews worked to clear the wreckage. Enlarge video

At Hillcrest Wrecker & Garage Inc. in Lawrence, owner Jerry Taylor had nine vehicles from the pileups in his lot just off Franklin Road, their hoods crumpled and their trunks crushed.

His company was among the first called in for multiple wrecks in the turnpike’s eastbound lanes, near milepost 221, just west of Kansas Highway 7. Fortunately he had four guys working and could bring in a fifth.

“It’s one of those things you expect always to happen somewhere else: on the East Coast or the West Coast,” he said. “We weren’t prepared for that. We weren’t thinking about that at all.”

Crews from Hillcrest and other companies parked more than a mile away, their drivers then walking to the scene and see what they could soon do.

Brubaker, who drives a Hillcrest wrecker and took one of the early calls, knew the first priority: pull cars apart, to open a lane for traffic. Next: clear the scene, a process made easier by hauling as many as two cars at a time on flatbed trucks to the Lawrence rest area before going back for more.

By Monday morning, Brubaker and other Hillcrest drivers had transported nine vehicles to the yard in Lawrence and another three to Topeka.

Now the insurance companies are calling the tow companies.

“We’ve had calls all day long,” Brubaker said.


King, an American Family Insurance agent in Lawrence, normally advises his clients to gather names and phone numbers from others when involved in an accident.

Not this time.

“There’s no way in the world, with 40 to 50 cars,” King said. “You can’t go from car to car to car to get everybody’s information.”

Instead, insurance agents, claims adjusters and others in the mix will be looking to review the accidents reports so they can expedite the process for repairs and settlements.

“It could be awhile before they sort out whose fault it was,” King said.


Through it all, Nadeau isn’t complaining.

She’d simply been driving home to Shawnee from her mom’s place near Topeka when she suddenly couldn’t see through the snow, then swerved to avoid a truck, smelled her airbags deploy and felt the repetitive impacts of cars behind her.

She wouldn’t climb into the cab of a warm tow truck until four hours later.

Then Monday afternoon, in the Hillcrest lot, she would get back into her rental car with about all she could salvage: a Kansas license plate, in remarkably good shape considering how the rest of her Corolla’s rear end had been bashed.

“I’ve been on the phone for hours, dealing with it all,” she said. “But I’m OK.”

Her smile remained very much in place.

Crime and safety reporter Jesse Fray and Bonner Springs Chieftain reporter Melissa Treolo contributed information for this story.


Steve Jacob 8 years, 2 months ago

No big trucks, and it looked like to me nobody was going very fast. I think on top of the whiteout conditions, maybe it was even sunny. Strange combination.

anonyname 8 years, 2 months ago

"Multiple multicar pileups causes..."

pileups (plural) causes (singular)

Grammar check, anyone?

Jonathan Kealing 8 years, 2 months ago


Thanks for catching that. Just moving too quickly.

Cheers, Jonathan Kealing Online editor

Alexander Neighbors 8 years, 2 months ago

Rule #1.

Dont Drive faster than current driving conditions will allow.

Rule #2.

Give your Self a 2 second following distance from the car in front of you.

Wendy magillicutty 8 years, 2 months ago

As one of the drivers out yesterday, the driving conditions changed in the blink of an eye. It was an unusual occurence and thankfully people HAD slowed down.

mommydaycare 8 years, 2 months ago

Ok, can we please report on the people who were hurt in the accident. There are people here in lawrence as well as Kansas city that were involved, have no car now, no money, and ina bad situation. Let's feel bad for these people as well!!, not just one person who could not find his/her vehicle!!!!!

Momofallboys 8 years, 2 months ago

I am very thankful I am okay. The worst injury that we were told of, was a broken ankle. The car that I hit and my front end had minimal damage. The back of my van is another story. I'm sure it will be a total loss. I do thankfully have another car, however it's a small 4 door and there are 5 of us. We will make it work until we can afford another car.

momof4kiddos 8 years, 2 months ago

Did you ever stop to think that just because she "found" her car that it is still highly likely a total loss which means she also has no car, no money to replace her car and is in a bad situation. Wow people really need to get a life. I am glad she "found" her car so she can move on with the the insurance process.

jaywalker 8 years, 2 months ago

It's time for the powers that be to create a warning system on the interstates that can be initiated by 911 operators. Perhaps connected to mile markers, an electrical connection can flash if there's an accident ahead? Don't know, but it can and should be done. I was involved in a pile up over the bridge from Detroit, outside of Windsor, Canada, some years ago. Horrific. The fog was as thick as I've seen, it was impossible to stop the carnage. I still have problems with flashbacks, and the screams of one young girl we couldn't get to. Never felt so helpless in my life.

croutons 8 years, 2 months ago

jaywalker, a system like the one you're talking about would probably raise the toll cost from the eastern terminal to the East Lawrence exit from a buck and some change to somewhere over $9 just to cover the costs.

Evan Ridenour 8 years, 2 months ago


was_freashpowder2 (Alexander Neighbors) says…

Rule #1.

Dont Drive faster than current driving conditions will allow.

Rule #2.

Give your Self a 2 second following distance from the car in front of you."

Your advice is wrong and sadly not even followed.

2 second following distance is for nominal conditions, not for abhorrent conditions.

The simple fact is that if people were moving at a safe speed for the conditions and placing enough distance between themselves and the vehicles around them stupidity like this would be avoided.

Basically everyone who drives is an idiot and anyone who has half a brain knows it. Somehow I wonder how any of us live on a day to day basis driving around with these half aware, self absorbed zombies on our roadways,

I value my life. When it begins to snow I slow down... below the speed limit because guess what, that speed limit was designed for nominal conditions for the roadway. I can't believe anyone is whining about these pile ups. Everyone is responsible because everyone drives like crap.

Vic 8 years, 2 months ago

As someone who was out in the area of the accidents Sunday and fortunately not involved in any, I think I can speak on this.

This was an example of the bizarre weather changes in Kansas. Snow, sunny, melt, wind, freeze, snow. That caused the road conditions. Another factor from nearly every accident I saw (I didn't see the big one at I-70 and K-7, but I did see the next biggest accident at NB 435 just south of the Legends area) was bridges and overpasses. These areas freeze faster than any part of the road. Combine a fast freezing patch of ice and sudden white-out conditions and you have a recipe for disaster. We can all thank God there were no serious injuries reported and no fatalities either.

CrazyUkrainian1 8 years, 2 months ago


Yes there are a lot of bad drivers on the road, and yes, if people actually did drive more cautiously when the weather and road conditions are bad, then there would be far fewer accidents. However, this was a freak situation in which in an instant, the visibility became zero due to white-out conditions. You can be the safest driver in the world and still get in an accident, especially in conditions like these. Your comment is totally disrespectful to the people who were involved in this accident. I'm sure you wouldn't want to be ridiculed if you were in the same situation. Thank God no one was killed. It could have been much worse. Thanks to all the fire and rescue workers who helped these people in their time of need!

Kelly Johnson 8 years, 2 months ago

I drove from Baldwin Junction to Gardner on 56 Sunday, and the weather conditions were so weird! One minute there'd be sun coming through the clouds and then seconds later there was blinding snow accompanied by wind and visibility would reduce to about 2 car lengths in front of you. Then it would go back to small snow flurries with clouds. I've lived in KS all my life but never experienced weather quite like this before.

jaywalker 8 years, 2 months ago

"a system like the one you're talking about would probably raise the toll cost from the eastern terminal to the East Lawrence exit from a buck and some change to somewhere over $9 just to cover the costs."

For flashing lights on mile markers? No, I don't think so.

Vic 8 years, 2 months ago


"The trouble is that we're a nation of terrible motorists. We're unskilled and distracted"

Quite true. I have seen that despite texting, cell phones in general, or other in-car distractions, a huge distraction is the weather itself. I have seen countless times where people just plain forget how to drive properly in anything but normal conditions. Foggy and no lights is waaay to common. I have even seen it at dusk and still people don't turn on their lights. When it snows, it's probably the worst. People see the snow and suddenly they either can't take their foot off the break or forget to follow proper safety rules and protocol. No signal when changing lanes. No lights. Improper following of another car. Too fast. Too slow. You name it. It's scary out there when the weather is bad.

Momofallboys 8 years, 2 months ago

I wish I could show you the photos of my van so you could see how very little damage I sustained to the front. The damage to the back is much much worse, and I was also side swiped. I was going at a very low rate of speed, I had plenty of following distance, however the girl in front of me slammed her brakes and spun, I hit her front bumper to front bumper. With a HUGE SUV to my left and a concrete wall to my right, there was no where to go but into the car in front of me. I slid into her with very little impact.

pea 8 years, 2 months ago

"For flashing lights on mile markers? No, I don't think so."

How much then? How much for the lights and the infrastructure required to operate them? $9 was certainly a WAG but that project is definitely bigger than "lights on mile markers".

Instead of looking for a flashing mile marker or an emergency text message, how about we simply look out our windows and react appropriately?

jaywalker 8 years, 2 months ago

"Instead of looking for a flashing mile marker or an emergency text message, how about we simply look out our windows and react appropriately?"

Gee, that's a swell (and incredibly naive) philosophy, but it only takes one to muck it up for everyone else in these situations.
How the heck should I know how much it would cost? Most major cities and their arteries are equipped with changeable message boards now; this type of project would cost a heck of lot less than those. I should know, i was in charge of the fiber placement, the splicing, and the testing of more than half of the Atlanta project. And it's a hell of a lot more complex and costly than an electrical early warning system would be.

pea 8 years, 2 months ago

My naivete tells me that if I can see a flashing light, I can see an area of low visibility approaching.

My point about the cost is that any cost is high when situational awareness provides the same info for free. With realtime updates!

jaywalker 8 years, 2 months ago

"My point about the cost is that any cost is high when situational awareness provides the same info for free."

Fine, pea. Now please tell us how you implement that precautionary "plan".
It goes without saying that people SHOULD proceed with caution when situations dictate............that ALL do NOT and will NOT is the problem. By your estimation, we shouldn't need nor pay for things like railroad crossing signals; if people just paid attention............. Your 'plan' is merely wishful thinking. It would be "nice" if everyone was a conscientious driver, but do you honestly believe that's possible?

pea 8 years, 2 months ago

You said "plan" not me. By "situational awareness" I simply meant "paying attention to things like zero-visibility, traffic patterns, changes in weather". When we start comparing a weather incident to traffic control (i.e. a railroad crossing) it's time for me to bow out. Safe travels, friend.

jaywalker 8 years, 2 months ago

"I simply meant “paying attention to things like zero-visibility, traffic patterns, changes in weather”. "

i know what you meant, and I'll reiterate - there is no guarantee all drivers will be that attentive or responsible.

"When we start comparing a weather incident to traffic control "

Pardon me, but that's what you and I have been discussing the whole time, though it's never been a 'comparison'. It's problem/solution.

gphawk89 8 years, 2 months ago

“It could be awhile before they sort out whose fault it was,”

It was the weather's fault. How about, for a change, the insurance companies suck it up and just pay for their own policyholder's damages without trying figure out how to individually blame each of the other 49 drivers? Greedy bastards.

Momofallboys 8 years, 2 months ago


My insurance is making me claim it on them for now. That just means (to me) I have to pay the $500 deductible. They say it will be a long time before they determine fault.

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