- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2003

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — The painstaking reconstruction of the collisions that killed two motorists and injured dozens in dense fog on Interstate 68 will take weeks, perhaps months, state police said yesterday.

Any charges may hinge on the report of five accident investigators who spent Saturday morning marking the positions and measuring the dents in 89 vehicles involved in three separate pileups Friday afternoon atop Big Savage Mountain in Garrett County.

The state police specialists are now back in their offices around the state, analyzing the data, said Cpl. Rob Moroney, a state police spokesman.

“They’ll piece it all together and come up with an idea of how it occurred,” Cpl. Moroney said.

Completing such a task normally takes 30 to 60 days, he said.

“Obviously, this is a lot of cars. It might take a little longer,” he said.

The National Transportation Safety Board also sent an investigator to the scene, NTSB spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz said.

Investigator Pete Kotowski of Parsippany, N.J., may produce a formal report, a recommendation letter or nothing, if he decides no NTSB action is needed, Mr. Lopatkiewicz said.

Regina Daudet, 66, of Centreville, Va., and Jason Howell, 26, of Millersburg, Ohio, were killed in the crashes. Dozens were hurt, including Steven Conely, 25, of Donora, Pa., who remained in serious condition yesterday at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

Trooper 1st Class Jim Grinan said he was working overtime at the state police barracks in McHenry, verifying the names of drivers. By yesterday morning, he had nailed down the 14 involved in the first pileup.

“It’s quite a time-consuming process,” Trooper Grinan said.

State police and highway officials said the first pileup, in the westbound lanes, prompted activation of electronic signboards warning approaching cars of dense fog atop the mountain. The road over the Eastern Continental Divide is subject to frequent fogginess that can develop swiftly, then melt away, state police Sgt. R.A. Eilerman said.

“It’s always foggy,” he said. “One minute it’s not, and the next minute it is, and two minutes later, it’s clear again. That’s just typical Garrett County weather.”

During his eight years in McHenry, dense fog has never prompted police to close the highway, as they sometimes do during snow and ice storms, Sgt. Eilerman said.

Perhaps that’s because fog doesn’t make such a slippery surface, said Valerie Edgar, spokeswoman for the State Highway Administration, which confers with state police on weather-related road closures.

“Obviously, it’s a challenge driving in the fog. Slowing down is an absolute must,” Miss Edgar said.

Raised, reflective markers are embedded in the lane stripes in that area, and there are rumble strips to alert drivers who stray onto the road shoulder, Miss Edgar said.

She said runway-style fog lights, like those along a mountainous stretch of Interstate 64 in Virginia, haven’t convinced Maryland traffic engineers of their effectiveness.

“The most effective technique is slowing down and using common sense,” Miss Edgar said. “If it’s a whiteout condition and you can’t see, the best advice would be to pull off the highway.”

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