News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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June 14, 2011

Multi-truck crash brings I-70 to halt

Despite chain reaction, no one suffers life-threatening injury

WEST TERRE HAUTE — A multi-vehicle accident sent three people to local hospitals and blocked traffic on Interstate 70 for several hours Monday evening.

There were no reports of life-threatening injuries from the accident despite several crushed semitrailer cabs at the scene.

Ten people were treated in total and three were taken by ambulance to Terre Haute hospitals, according to Trans-Care ambulance officials, who were checking on accident victims and offering treatment.

At least seven semitrailers were involved in the crash, which took place about 6:45 p.m. Monday. There were no passenger cars involved in the accident scene. However, it was not known what caused traffic to stop in the first place. According to police, eastbound traffic came to a stop,  leading to a chain reaction of accordion-style crashes as one semitrailer smashed into the rear end of another.

“Traffic had slowed to a stop for unknown reasons,” said Sgt. Joe Watts of the Indiana State Police, who was at the scene.

The accident, which blocked the eastbound lane for several hours Monday evening, took place in a construction zone where the highway crosses a small creek three miles west of the U.S. 41 Terre Haute exit. The crash caused west-bound traffic to stop as well because the west-bound lane was used to bring emergency vehicles to the scene.

Westbound traffic was able to move forward again at 8 p.m.

At the place where the crash took place, I-70 has been reduced by construction to just two lanes – one going east and one going west. The two lanes are divided by temporary, concrete barriers.

A long line of trucks, many with their cabs smashed into the trailers of other trucks, created a spectacle for motorists who stood outside their vehicles waiting for traffic to move. With traffic blocked for several hours, whole families stood along the roadway to survey the damage and talk in the warm, clear evening air.

“We are at the tail end of a 1,000-mile trip,” said Margaret Walker of Bloomington, who was headed home with her family from Texas when the accident caused them to come to stop on I-70 about 50 miles from their destination. In a 2,000-mile round trip this was the first accident the family had seen, added Nancy Cross, who was also part of the journey.

The smell of diesel fuel and motor oil hung in the air as emergency responders worked the scene. Hazardous materials officials poured special powder on the vehicle fluids lying on the roadways under the badly damaged semitrailers. Debris from the accident, including engine parts, also littered the highway.

One semitrailer cab was crushed as if it had been placed in a giant vice. Another cab had a smashed windshield – broken by the rear doors of the trailer it collided with.

“You can call me the lucky one, I guess,” said the driver of a semitrailer who sat by his pulverized vehicle. A little shaken in the first hour after the incident, the driver said he has been a professional truck driver for four years and had never before had an accident.

Several semitrailer drivers not involved in the crash came up from their stopped rigs to take photos and look over the scene. Several said it appeared that the chain reaction crash was caused by vehicles following too closely. Long skid marks were clearly visible on the highway leading to the scene of the collisions.

Traffic on I-70 was diverted through West Terre Haute and Terre Haute by the accident. Diverted truck and vehicle traffic moved at a snail’s pace along U.S. 40 Monday evening.

In addition to the Indiana State Police and Trans-Care, some of the other emergency responders at the scene included Sugar Creek Fire, the Terre Haute Fire Department, the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department and Task Force Seven.

Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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