FIRE AND ICE

Bad roads and inattentive driving leads to fiery crash Sunday, 15-car pileup on Saturday
Thursday, February 11, 2021
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The remains of two burned semis on I-90 just east of Columbus following a fiery crash Sunday involving five big rigs and two pickup trucks. (Photo Courtesy of the Montana Highway Patrol)

Two multi-vehicle crashes last weekend shut down I-90 on Saturday and Sunday as a fierce winter storm brought several inches of snow, ice and extreme cold to the region.

Monday brought no relief, as law enforcement, medical, fire and wrecker crews literally ran from one accident to the next in a continuation of the weekend’s crashes.

There were at least 70 crashes documented by the Montana Highway Patrol between Friday, Feb. 5, and Tuesday, Feb. 9, in Stillwater County, according to the MHP incident report.

The most serious were two multi-vehicle wrecks involving semi trucks.

SATURDAY

A 15-vehicle pile-up involving six separate crashes created prolonged havoc on I-90 near mile marker 426.

It started at 11:37 a.m. with a semi that had “not quite jack-knifed” and was in the median near Park City, with its rear end sticking out in the left lane, according to the Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office dispatch records and MHP.

Montana Highway Patrol Capt. Keith Edgell said five additional crashes occurred as traffic approached the scene and tried unsuccessfully to slow down.

The eastbound lane was shut down between Park City and Laurel as a result of full blockage starting at 1:18 p.m.

Edgell noted that 11 of the 15 vehicles involved were semi trucks. Edgell also said that in general, semis are driving much too fast for road conditions and simply are not able to slow down and stop when needed.

MHP, Park City Fire, Laurel Fire and Sweet Grass County deputies also responded. Stillwater County Disaster and Emergency Services (DES) was advised of fuel leakage.

Visibility and road conditions were described as poor at the time of the accident.

SUNDAY

A fiery 7-vehicle crash in which at least two people were injured occurred at 9:21 a.m. at mile marker 422. Two pickup trucks pulling campers spun out on the bridge deck, and two semi trucks behind them were unable to stop uneventfully, ending up jack-knifed, according to Edgell.

A total of three more semis also failed to stop, crashing into the two already crashed, resulting in a fire that left two of the vehicles burned. Edgell said one semi driver was knocked unconsciousness and was pulled from his burning cab by another driver.

A second semi driver was crushed in the crash and had to be extricated. Although that driver initially appeared to be in critical condition, he is now expected to recover. The semi drivers were from Mississippi, New Jersey, Manitoba, Texas and British Columbia.

Park City Fire Chief Jo Alegria urges people to use extreme caution in such winter conditions.

“Slow down and drive according to the conditions of the road,” said Alegria on Monday as he took a quick break from conducting traffic control on I-90. “If conditions are bad, stay home.” SEVERAL NEAR MISSES WITH EMERGENCY CREWS

Several near misses occurred with Stillwater County emergency crews being nearly hit by motorists driving through — or rather sliding into accident scenes.

Columbus Fire Rescue (CFR), a tow truck company and sheriff’s deputies all had close calls with motorists who either didn’t — or couldn’t — slow down while approaching crash sites being actively worked by emergency crews.

At 1:13 p.m. Saturday, deputies working a multi-vehicle crash at mile marker 426 near Park City reported requested more lights due to the fact that they had “almost been hit multiple times,” according to Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office dispatch records.

On Monday, a manned-truck from Hanson’s Auto Body was nearly hit by a passing vehicle at an accident scene on I-90 late Monday morning.

A short time later, a CFR unit was nearly hit by a passing motorist at an I-90 accident scene, between Columbus and Park City.

Late Monday afternoon, a deputy at a crash site could be heard saying “We have a sideways semi coming at us – heads up!” followed a few minutes later by “That was close.”

A wrecker trucker near Big Timber was hit Monday.

The Move Over law in Montana requires motorist to slow down and move into the farthest lane possible when approaching any emergency vehicle. This includes wreckers, fire engines, law enforcement vehicles, ambulances and road crews.