- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2001

A storm that dumped as much as 3 inches of snow on the Washington area yesterday caused pileups on roads throughout the region, including a 116-vehicle, chain-reaction accident on Interstate 95 that killed one woman.
There were reports of at least 14 injuries in the Stafford County, Va., pileup, including three life-threatening ones, according to state police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell. She said the dead woman was not carrying any identification, but was believed to have been alone in the car at the time of the accident.
In Northern Virginia alone, at least 100 accidents involving injuries were reported, Mrs. Caldwell said, adding that this did not include the fender-benders that occurred throughout the day.
Accidents were also reported in Maryland, including a series of minor crashes along I-95. In Washington, police reported no major incidents.
By contrast, the District of Columbia reported only a few minor accidents with traffic flowing smoothly most of the day.
The pileup on the southbound lanes of I-95 in Stafford County involved 14 tractor-trailers, two of which caught fire and burned, Mrs. Caldwell said. Several car fires also broke out.
The accident, 40 miles south of Washington, began about 10:30 a.m., when a car hit a tractor-trailer and caught fire. Cars coming from behind, blinded by the snow, plowed into the crash.
Police said they did not yet know the reason for the crash. But one driver, Reshea Pierce, said it was caused by speeding drivers.
Miss Pierce, who was at the front end of the wreck, said most drivers were going at speeds of 40 to 50 mph at the time, with some doing over 60.
The crash was "like dominos."
"It was just wreck after wreck after wreck," said Miss Pierce, who was driving from Philadelphia to North Carolina.
"You see it coming, and there's nothing you can do. You just brace yourself for a head-on collision. There were cars knocking other cars off the road," she said.
Mrs. Caldwell said it was difficult to estimate the correct number of injured because several were taken to the Emergency Response Center in Stafford County before the police arrived.
About 100 people were also taken to an elementary school in Stafford County that is being used as a shelter.
A 20-vehicle pileup was reported on Interstate 81 near Lexington, Va. Four vehicles caught fire and another spilled an unidentified hazardous chemical onto the road. Two persons died in the accident, police said.
A crash on Interstate 64 killed at least one person, police said. A burned body was found in a car when firefighters began pulling apart cars that melted together in a fire.
Near Fredericksburg, Va., there was a 50-car pileup in the northbound lanes of I-95. Police said 21 persons were injured in that accident.
The early rush hour, caused by people trying to get home before the snowstorm hit, made it difficult for emergency crews to reach the accident sites, police said.
"This is just a horrible day for everyone," Mrs. Caldwell said, adding that additional crews were working to clear the pileup. Police expected to reopen I-95 late last night, she said.
Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Joan Morris said that snow trucks had pretreated I-95, possibly including the stretches where the accidents occurred, around 10:30 a.m. "Half an hour later, there was a total white-out," she said.
She added that the state had deployed more than 1,000 trucks since 6 a.m. yesterday morning. "But once the accidents started, everything slowed down, including the snow trucks," she said.
North of Baltimore, a five-mile stretch of southbound I-95 was closed for more than two hours following a series of minor crashes between Interstate 695 and the Baltimore city line, state police said.
Maryland State Police spokesman Lt. Bud Frank said his department had been responding to several accidents since noon yesterday. Traffic was at a standstill until around 3 p.m., after which police reopened the stretch of highway.
Police say several people suffered minor injuries in the crashes, but none was life-threatening.
"Once we get everyone home, it should be OK," Lt. Frank said.
In the District, there were reports of just "a couple of minor accidents, like cars skidding," said Peter LaPorte, who heads the D.C. Emergency Management Agency.
Mr. LaPorte said they had not seen as many accidents as the rest of the region because they had deployed 85 snow trucks in the morning before the storm as a precautionary measure. He said the 150 snow trucks that were deployed through the day would remain on the streets until past rush hour and well into the night.
Police said the number of accidents in the region was exceptionally high this time, even for a snowstorm.
Meteorologist Tim Travers of the National Weather Service said bad driving conditions were created by the unusually warm weather that preceded the snowfall. The high temperature in the city was around 65 degrees on Tuesday and 50 degrees on Wednesday, before dropping to the early 20s yesterday morning, he said.
The pavement on streets remained warm overnight, causing the first snow to melt and then refreeze as temperatures dropped. That created a thin layer of ice under the snow and, therefore, slippery roads, Mr. Travers said.
Yesterday's storm was due to a low-pressure area moving into North Carolina and was expected to move out late last night. "This kind of weather is not at all unusual for February," said National Weather Service Program Manager John Neukirk.
Several flights from both Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport were canceled due to the snowfall, Washington Area Airports Authority spokesman Tom Sullivan said. Reagan National had to twice suspend operations for about a half-hour to treat the runways.
As the snow came down, schools around the area closed early, and so did several offices. In the midst of presenting his annual school budget, Arlington County (Va.) Schools Superintendent Robert Smith sent out an order that all schools in the county be allowed to close early.
Upper Marlboro, Md., resembled a ghost town by midafternoon. Only office cleaners roamed the government buildings.
In Prince George's County, Md., evening traffic moved in slow motion but with few troubles along Routes 50 and 202. Vehicles driving the barely plowed, one-lane stretch of Route 202 leading into Upper Marlboro nearly came to a standstill.
On Lee Highway in Arlington, an hour after the snow started to come down, cars skidded and swerved and some came to a complete stop, unable to drive on. Those that did continue did so at cautious speeds of 10 to 15 mph.
The heavy snowfall made the area an observation point for some. The Weather Channel's on-camera meteorologist, Mike Seidel, and his crew chose to film shots of the snowfall from the corner of North Royal and King streets in Old Town Alexandria, Va.
But the bad weather did not make a difference to at least one man's routine, it appeared. Last evening, as the snow dissipated, a gray-haired man in shorts was seen jogging near Union Station.
"He had a very grim, determined look on his face," one onlooker said.
Ellen Sorokin, Gerald Mizejewski and Arlo Wagner contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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