90 vehicles involved in chain reaction wrecks on interstate

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 18, 1999

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / January 18, 1999

NORCO – Ninety vehicles were involved in a series of accidents Thursday morning which turned Interstate 10 traffic into a quarter-mile stretch of damaged vehicles.

Thirty people were injured.

Louisiana State Trooper Kevin Cannatella said drivers following too close in bad weather was the root cause of the accident.

“Fog doesn’t cause accidents,” Cannatella emphasized. “People’s reactionto fog causes accidents.”Much to many people’s astonishment, even with scores of vehicles totaled, there were no fatalities or even serious injuries.

One accident at 7:40 a.m. in the eastbound lanes between a pickup truckand nearby cars set off the chain reaction as vehicles following slammed into them.

An 18-wheeler then jackknifed and curled into a U completely blocking off eastbound traffic, and more cars were trapped when a second 18-wheeler, unable to stop in time, split the traffic lanes and wrought more disaster.

On the westbound lanes the thick fog packed in, and more accidents were spawned, beginning at 9:15 a.m.Cannatella’s latest counts, as of press time Friday, were 90 vehicles involved in 23 separate wrecks. On the eastbound lanes there were eightwrecks with 47 vehicles. On the westbound lanes there were 15 wreckswith 43 vehicles.

“We were already stopped when the second 18-wheeler came through and knocked us up onto the guardrail,” Ellen Trapen of Hammond observed. She,her daughter, niece and grandchild had been on their way to take the child in for heart problems.

The child was re-routed to River Parishes Hospital, LaPlace, for examination.

Hahnville High English teacher Stephanie Ledet, who just started on her sabbatical leave, was still anxiously awaiting the arrival of her husband, who was bringing food for their infant son, at noon.

The child, craning his head around, was apparently fascinated with the scene.

Bruce Boudreaux of Acadian Ambulance reported that several ambulance services were almost immediately involved in clearing the accident scene, with injured being transported to River Parishes Hospital, Kenner Regional, East Jefferson Medical Center, St. Charles Parish Hospital andOchsner Medical Center.

The worst of the injuries was that of a woman whose leg was trapped under the dashboard.

A WDSU-6 news crew on its way to the accident scene was itself involved in the story, with reporter Scott Simmons and photographer Chuck Gay forced to climb out a window of the car with cuts, bumps and bruises after an 18-wheeler coming from behind scattered cars “like playing pool,” Simmons said.

Cannatella added that Louisiana State Police does not convoy people through fogbound patches, as it is much more difficult to control vehicles on the open interstate.

However, on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, where convoying is a common practice, access is controlled at the toll booths and, with no shoulders, convoying is much more necessary to keep traffic moving.

Cannatella urged that motorists, especially large truck drivers, must slow down in fog if they must get on the highways at all. Drivers must accountfor limited visibility and the possibility of suddenly coming onto an accident scene.

“It’s not what we will do but what you will do,” Cannatella stated.

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