February 12, 2014

Dangerous roads cause hundreds of crashes, one fatality

A motorist died Wednesday when her car slid on the ice-slick I-95, but most people obeyed official warnings and stayed off South Carolina roads as the state was hit by one of the worst ice storms in memory.

The death happened around 8:25 a.m. Wednesday at I-95 mile marker 128 in Clarendon County, said Lance Cpl. David Jones of the S.C. Highway Patrol.

A woman driving a 2009 Nissan skidded on I-95 and slammed into a 2007 Ford pickup that was legally parked on the Interstate's shoulder, Jones said. The truck belonged to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

Around noon Wednesday, some 1,588 DOT workers were on the state's roads in clearing, salting, or sanding operations. Nearly 400 state law officers, including from SLED and the S.C. Highway Patrol, were also on the roads, along with hundreds of local officers across the state.

Temperatures were well below freezing across the state, except in some coastal counties, ensuring that the roads would remain treacherous into the night.

Police are blocking travel periodically on a few hilly side roads in the town of Lexington where conditions are deemed too hazardous, particularly on those where vehicles often slide off.

"That's done for roads that are too slick, too dangerous," town administrator Britt Poole said.

The stoppages typically last brief periods as officers assess conditions, he said.

As waves of rarely-seen ice and sleet continued to pelt Midlands’ roads Wednesday morning, officials continued to warn of dangerous conditions outside and motorists continued to stay off streets.

“There are usually thousands of cars in downtown Columbia at this time, but you only see a few here and there today,” S.C. Highway Patrol Lance Cpl. David Jones said shortly before 11 a.m. Wednesday.

Often, Jones said, the few cars he does see have been in a collision because of the weather.

“The roads are completely covered in ice,” Jones said.

“Vehicles are using caution when traveling, keeping speeds under 20 mph,” he said. “But even in four-wheel drive vehicles, when you come to a stop or accelerate, cars are still sliding,” Jones said. “It’s pretty bad. In my nine years as trooper, this is pretty treacherous because there’s so much ice.”

Many side roads in Lexington County are becoming impassable, Administrator Joe Mergo said. "Conditions are becoming 'pretty bad' for travel and likely to worsen," he said.

A handful of traffic accidents occurred overnight in Lexington County, all involving cars that slid off roads with no major injuries, officials said.

The few vehicles out in Batesburg-Leesville -a town of 5,400 on the western edge of the county- are "just creeping along," Mayor Rita Crapps said.

The Richland County Sheriff's Department said people are doing a good job of staying home. Deputies have had very few calls to help stranded motorists, said Sgt. Curtis Wilson, a department spokesman. "Most people listened so that hasn't been an issue," Wilson said.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Wednesday afternoon that a deputy injured in a weather-related collision Tuesday afternoon on S.C. 215 near Blythewood is expected to recover and, after a stay in the hospital, is at home recuperating.

"Her air bags and seat belt saved her," Lott said.

Capt. Roxanne Meetze was approaching a bridge in her Ford Interceptor, and a vehicle coming the other way lost control on the icy bridge, did a 360-degree turned and struck Meetze's Ford, Lott said.

The driver of the other car, who wasn't injured, was charged with driving too fast for conditions, Lott said.

Also, the snow, sleet and freezing rain caused the State Emergency Management Division declared a state of emergency mid-morning Wednesday for most of South Carolina. People should monitor their local media, the EMD advised.

“Dangerous road conditions” and power outages are likely, the EMD said.

Many stores around Columbia were closed, but the Food Lion and the Drip coffee shop in Five Points were open.

“We just can’t stress enough - stay at home, staff of the roads,” Jones said.

The snow and ice deluge began around 5 a.m., when a heavy mixture of sleet and snow began to fall across the Columbia area. Any car that was parked outside soon had layers of hard-to-get-off ice on all its windows.

Ice scrapers for car windows were a must, and windows could even ice up while the car was traveling.

The Columbia Police Department's officers have responded to 20 car wrecks and helped a dozen stranded motorists during the past 24 hours, according to statistics provided by the department.

The bulk of the wrecks happened between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tuesday when the freezing rain began and people were trying to get home from school and work.

On Wednesday morning, it appeared that people were taking officials' advice and staying off the roads. The police department had only responded to one wreck as of 8 a.m. Seven motorists had been assisted by police, the report said.

SC Highway Patrol live incident report

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