Slippery roads cause one death, accidents

Ice storm triggers traffic jams, delays for schoolchildren

January 10, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare and Jennifer McMenamin | Mary Gail Hare and Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Icy roads throughout Carroll County caused at least 50 traffic accidents yesterday, including one fatality, doubled commute times, and made hundreds of students late for school.

Slick conditions snarled traffic for several hours on the county's major road, particularly in South Carroll, according to state and municipal police. Gary P. Haines, 47, of Eldersburg was killed when he was hit by a skidding car as he directed traffic in his neighborhood, police said.

Hundreds of Carroll County students arrived late to school yesterday morning because of slippery, clogged roads and accidents, interim Schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said.

The delays - especially bad in the Eldersburg area, where a car crash on Route 32 at the Howard-Carroll line tied up traffic for hours - disrupted morning schedules and left students and staff stranded in traffic until almost noon.

Route 32 in Eldersburg, Route 30 in Hampstead and ramps onto Interstate 70 presented drivers with the most serious challenges, police said. But drivers often created problems.

"They go slip-sliding to their cars, scrape coats of ice off their vehicles and then, get in and drive as if they were on dry pavement," said Hampstead Police Chief Ken Meekins. "What kind of job is so critical that you have to rush to it on an icy road?"

Meekins responded to several crashes in the Hampstead area, which involved several victims who were flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

A Hampstead police cruiser was hit while an officer investigated a crash at Route 30 and Wolf Hill Drive. Capt. Jay Gribben was seated in the new cruiser collecting information on the accident, when an ambulance from Lineboro slammed into him. The impact forced the cruiser into a Toyota involved in the accident Gribben was investigating.

"I heard the ambulance coming, but my head was down while I was writing," said Gribben, who was not seriously injured. "The next thing I knew my papers were flying all over the place. I slid about 25 feet into the Toyota."

The 25-minute drive from Westminster to Sykesville Police Department took Chief John R. Williams Jr. more than an hour. He stopped once to help a woman parked along the side of the road and crying from the tension.

"I don't know why drivers feel they are mandated to do the speed limit when road conditions are not even suitable for walking much less driving," Williams said. "They don't account for stopping distance and they don't reduce speed. They are mistaken when they think a four-wheel drive has any impact on ice."

Williams said nearly half the drivers he saw yesterday morning were using cell phones. "You have to stay off those cell phones," he said. "You need time for recognition and response in these conditions."

At Oklahoma Road Middle School in Eldersburg, nearly half of the school's 900 pupils had not arrived by 10 a.m. - about two hours after they typically begin to arrive.

The last of the school's 17 buses pulled into the driveway between 10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. One bus made it through a route without finding students at the bus stops. And others could not complete routes because of the traffic- and accident-clogged roads.

"I know some drivers who are extremely experienced and very competent who would gladly have handed over the keys to their bus this morning to anyone who would have taken them," Principal Cathy Hood said. "We didn't even try to run a normal school day. With almost half our students out, there would have been so much work to make up."

Instead, the first 200 to 300 students to arrive were directed to the gymnasium until enough staff members had arrived to cover homerooms. The last of the school's staff arrived about 11:30 a.m.

Once in class, teachers came up with alternate activities. Sixth-graders made a banner thanking bus drivers for getting them to school safely and thank-you cards to give to each bus driver in the afternoon.

"We're just glad the day is over," Hood said, "and hoping it doesn't freeze again tonight."

Buses around Hampstead and across South Carroll were delayed, said James Doolan, transportation director for the county schools. Doolan said he couldn't estimate how many students were late, but said elementary and middle school buses faced far more problems than high school buses.

Five buses were involved in minor accidents with no injuries resulting, he said.

Sun staff writer Childs Walker contributed to this article.

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