A 35-year-old woman was killed when the van she was riding in crashed into a rock embankment.
MERCER, Pa. -- Blowing snow, slick roads and high speed led to a series of chain-reaction wrecks in both directions of Interstate 80 in Mercer County on Thursday, killing one woman and causing 20-mile backups during the afternoon rush hour.
Just like the 80-vehicle pileup in December near Hermitage, the accident involved parked emergency vehicles and at least one tractor-trailer that jackknifed.
It wasn't a heavy snow, but it was wet, and with temperatures just below freezing, it stuck to the pavement and turned it into a slick track.
Trouble began on the east side of I-80 around 2:50 p.m. when a 1992 Chevrolet van driven by Beverly Jones, 65, of Austintown hit a patch of ice and lost control. The van shot off the road and crashed into a rock embankment. A wheelchair-using passenger in the van, Karen Jones, 35, died. Beverly Jones and another passenger, Kathryn Jones, 19, who were both wearing seat belts, sustained minor injuries.
An hour later, two tractor-trailers traveling westbound came upon emergency workers parked in the median helping at the scene of the first crash. One of the trucks, driven by Edward Hinton, 50, of Belleville, Ill., started to skid and slid into a truck in the left lane. Hinton's truck crossed over the left lane, flipped onto its side and skidded into the median. The other truck went out of control, fishtailed into an emergency medical technician standing on the side of the road, and then veered right across the highway and crashed down a steep embankment. That driver, Lisa Stokes of Lancaster, Calif., had a minor leg injury. EMT Marcus McElwain has an arm injury.
In the chaos, one of the trucks clipped a Pennsylvania State Police cruiser parked on the median. It was unoccupied.
Behind both crashes, drivers of cars coming on the scene slammed on their brakes. Those managing to stop without hitting anything were stationary targets for other out-of-control motorists.
'Crashes all over'
"There were crashes all over," said Colin Scott, who was munching on his lunch, a salad with ranch dressing, when his girlfriend, Natalie Donnelly, 20, slammed on the brakes and the car went off the road and landed in a ditch.
"The car was on its side," Scott said. "I had to climb over my girlfriend, roll down the window, climb out and then pull her out."
Scott and Donnelly, both students at Slippery Rock University, were not injured.
Two miles farther along in the eastbound lane, another state cruiser sustained severe damage at the hands of a truck driver. The trooper had stopped to assist at an unrelated accident when a tractor-trailer driven by Rafael Lopez Hernandez, 46, of San Antonio, Texas, lost control and hit the cruiser parked in the median. The tractor-trailer then went through the guardrails on the south side of the road. Hernandez, who was wearing a seat belt, was not injured. The cruiser was unoccupied.
People stranded and those with minor injuries were taken to a Howard Johnson's at Exit 13 in Mercer. The accidents led to the closure of a 16-mile stretch of the interstate for about two hours between I-79 and Route 18. That led to a traffic jam all the way west to Youngstown.
It was no better going on any other road in the area. Hundreds of crashes big and small were reported, making for a miserable afternoon commute.
On Route 422 near I-79 in Butler County, a Youngstown woman and her passenger were ejected from their '94 Ford Mustang after it crossed over the lanes and hit a Mack truck. Tracy Pirl and an unidentified juvenile were sent to Allegheny Medical Center in Pittsburgh. Their conditions were unavailable. The driver of the truck was slightly injured.
The Canfield Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol reported cars had slid off roads "everywhere" -- state Routes 45, 534, 62 and 165. None of the accidents appeared to involve serious injuries, the patrol said.
In Youngstown, Capt. Dave Williams said police responded to accidents on the Madison Avenue expressway, I-680 at Market Street, Rush Boulevard, state Route 62, Belmont, Richview, West Himrod and Glenwood avenues, among others. None of the injuries appeared to be serious, he said.