Snow leads to hundreds of wrecks


First Posted: 12/19/2009

With a snow storm bringing in 7.5 inches to Mount Airy and varying amounts throughout the county, a record-breaking number of wrecks were reported to emergency communications centers in Surry County.
According to John Shelton, director of Emergency Management Services, the most wrecks that had previously been reported to emergency services in a 24-hour period was 175.
In the 24-hour period after the snow first began to fall in Surry County, there were 480 accidents reported.
Weve had an enormous amount. It really overloaded everybody, said Shelton.
The director explained that actual wreck numbers could be closer to 500 since some wrecks were directly transferred to highway patrol and some people just called wrecking services instead of 911.
We couldnt get the highways clear fast enough, he said.
Since most people were driving only 25 to 35 miles per hour, according to Shelton, there were no serious injuries on Friday and into early Saturday morning.
Main areas for wrecks were U.S. 52 and I-77. Shelton said many tractor-trailers were on the highway, and they kept jack-knifing. This caused backups that lasted up to four hours or more for some drivers.
It eventually got so bad that emergency services began contacting wrecker groups to just move whatever stranded vehicles they found.
We couldnt keep up with it, Shelton said.
These highways were bumper-to-bumper traffic until Saturday morning, according to Shelton. Traffic on Interstate 74 was bad as well. These highways were closed for varying periods on Friday and early Saturday morning for crews to clean up wrecks, but all highways were open as of late Saturday morning.
Although Friday wrecks consisted mostly of property damage instead of personal injury, Saturday was a different story.
Now that people have got a false sense of security today, weve got all of these personal injury accidents, Shelton said on Saturday afternoon.
Still, there were no serious wreck injuries or fatalities reported as of 4:30 p.m. Shelton said one of the most serious wrecks occurred at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday when a man from Kentucky hit the bridge on Interstate 74 and landed on U.S. 52 below. The man was transferred to a trauma center but was not seriously injured.
Shelton said, He was a very fortunate man.
The mans dog was also OK. The dog ran for two miles after the wreck, but crews were able to find it.
Weve run accidents all day today, commented Shelton. Im hoping that things slow down tonight.
Emergency services had received calls of around 100 wrecks from Saturday morning to 4:30 p.m.
He said that black ice would probably be on the roads on Saturday night, so they were encouraging people not to drive after 10 p.m. But from what hed seen so far, Shelton said he expected more accidents to occur.
But I hope were wrong, he said.
Shelton said hes not sure why there were so many people on the roads and wrecking.
There was absolutely enough warning, he stated.
As far as emergency services go, Shelton said, We had planned for it, and we had personnel and staffing in place. We had enough personnel, but they really tested us.
He said the effort was a collaboration between emergency services, highway patrol, police and volunteer fire and rescue.
I dont know what we would have done without them, said Shelton.
The only fatality possibly related to the snow was a 79-year-old man who was found outside his car suffering from cardiac arrest Friday. Shelton said the man had a medical history of heart trouble, so it may not have been caused by the cold.
A 13-year-old girl was taken to Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center Saturday afternoon after a sledding accident on Albion Church Road in Westfield. Her condition is not known at this time.
Contact Meghann Evans at [email protected] or 719-1952.

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