Freak storm is blamed in October I-95 pileups

Police say no one will face charges in 33 crashes involving 130 vehicles

Metro

News from around the Baltimore region

March 08, 2005|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

CLARIFICATION

An article yesterday about a multi-vehicle crash on Interstate 95 north of White Marsh did not give the exact date in October when the crash occurred. The accidents began about 4:30 p.m. Oct. 16.

A freak storm with wind, rain and hail was to blame for the series of crashes on Interstate 95 in October - believed to be the worst multiple-vehicle accident in Maryland history - state police said yesterday after concluding an investigation.

None of the drivers involved in the multiple pileups along an 11-mile stretch from Belcamp to White Marsh will face charges, state police officials said after consulting with the state's attorney's offices in Baltimore and Harford counties.

"Usually in a crash, someone is at fault - there is a driving error," said state police spokesman Greg Shipley. "But in this one, it appears the weather was so sudden and created such an overwhelming hazard, prosecutors felt it was inappropriate to file charges."

Initially, police estimated that 17 accidents occurred, involving 92 vehicles. But after completing the investigation, state police said the pileup involved at least 130 vehicles and 33 crashes.

Twenty-nine crashes at 17 locations occurred in the southbound lanes, police said. Four crashes were reported in the northbound lanes, investigators found.

It has taken several months for investigators to compile all of the information from witnesses and drivers, including some who did not remain at the accident scenes but contacted troopers later, state police said.

All told, more than 50 people were injured, but no one was killed, police said. Given the magnitude of the accidents, the small number of serious injuries amazed rescue workers and troopers as they surveyed miles of wreckage.

More than 35 state troopers, more than two dozen Baltimore County and Maryland Transportation Authority police officers and nearly 100 paramedics, firefighters and emergency medical technicians from four jurisdictions were sent to help.

Maryland Transit Administration buses were dispatched to pick up motorists who could not drive away from the accidents.

Some rescuers compared the scene to the aftermath of a bomb explosion.

The fast-moving line of late-afternoon thunderstorms that hit the area produced pea-size hail, fog and steamy mist, causing drivers to skid out of control, police and witnesses said.

"For some motorists, it must have been like driving in a light bulb," said Chuck Jackson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

"It was a freak weather occurrence that caught a lot of motorists by surprise," he said. "A sudden reduction in visibility can create a real moment of panic."

Although authorities determined that no drivers were at fault, it is not uncommon for insurance companies to draw different conclusions after investigating and reconstructing accidents, Jackson said.

The accidents closed the heavily traveled section of the interstate from about 4:30 p.m. until about 11:40 p.m., police said.

Weather conditions were noted by police in more than half of the 206 fatal multiple-vehicle accidents nationwide from 1975 to 2002, according to data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The February 2002, 58-vehicle pileup in Fresno, Calif., in the fog is the largest multiple-vehicle accident on record with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, according to Liz Neblett, a NHTSA spokeswoman. Three people were killed in that accident.

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