Two killed in massive pileup on I-80 during blinding snowstorm
January 7, 2015 8:07 PM
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Seventeen vehicles, including eight tractor trailers, were involved in a crash on Interstate 80 Wednesday afternoon as a blinding snow squall moved into northwestern Pennsylvania.
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Two people were killed in the 17-vehicle pileup on Interstate 80 in Clarion County Wednesday afternoon.
By Madasyn Czebiniak / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Two men were killed Wednesday afternoon when they stepped out of their vehicles during a massive pileup in a blinding snowstorm on Interstate 80 in Clarion County, state police said.
Troopers said one tractor-trailer driver died after he got out to help others who may have been injured.
The second man, who was badly injured when he was thrown into the steering wheel of his vehicle, died of his injuries after he got out to try to help his children, who had been ejected from the vehicle, according to Clarion County Coroner Terry Shaffer.
“This is a real tragedy that occurred,” said state Trooper Jamie Levier of the Clarion Barracks. He said that investigators had not determined what caused the chain-reaction collision and that it was too early to say whether anyone would be charged.
Eighteen vehicles, including nine tractor-trailers, were involved in the wreck, which occurred at 1:33 p.m. at mile marker 65 near the Strattanville exit. The vehicles ended up in a jumbled mass in the westbound lanes, which stayed closed late Wednesday night.
Initial accounts said three people had died, but state police clarified that later in the day, saying the third person had died in another part of the county in an unrelated traffic accident. That person, a man who was not identified, died about 20 miles from and 15 minutes after the pileup on I-80.
According to police, the man, 73, of Emlenton, Pa., suffered a heart attack before driving off the road on Route 208 about 1:45 p.m. He had not been wearing a seat belt.
Trooper Levier could not say how many people were injured, but other emergency workers said up to 30 people were taken to area hospitals. Clarion Hospital alone treated 18 to 20 people, officials there said.
The man who died while trying to help his children was identified as Timothy Floravit, 35, of Beaver Falls.
Mr. Floravit’s wife, 33, whose name was unavailable, also was in the car along with the two children, whose ages the coroner, Mr. Shaffer, did not know. He said the children were “OK and the wife was fine.”
The second victim was identified as 67-year-old Leonard Mink, a truck driver from Nancy, Ky.
Julie Kunselman, director of marketing and physician recruitment at Clarion Hospital, said the hospital treated people for fractures and head and neck injuries. Some were discharged and some with more serious injuries were transferred to other hospitals, she said.
Emergency services vehicles from Clarion and Jefferson counties were called into service, and a bus also was called in to take people away from the scene. Trooper Levier said.
Officials said passenger vehicles and tractor-trailers plowed into each other during a “whiteout” caused by a lake-effect snow squall that began developing about 12:30 p.m. Visibility was reduced to less than a quarter-mile, and wind gusts of up to 35 mph were reported, according to Brad Rehak, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service near Pittsburgh International Airport.
The weather service had issued a winter weather advisory for Clarion County that went into effect at 7 a.m. Wednesday. The advisory said drivers on I-80 should expect hazardous travel conditions because of snow-covered roads.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reduced the speed limit on I-80 to 45 mph following the weather advisory.
Trooper Levier said in such conditions, drivers should be extremely cautious. If they are involved in a crash, he said, “We really encourage people to stay in their vehicles and do everything in their power to remain safe,” he said.
Mr. Rehak said narrow bands of snow combined with heavy wind can catch drivers by surprise.
“In a case where there’s more widespread snow, you’re going to be more careful,” he said. “If the roads are clear and you immediately encounter a band of snow, it just catches you by surprise.
“And with the winds, it’s nearly impossible to keep the road safe because [it] keeps blowing snow and covers roads that moments before had been treated.”
The interstate reopened early this morning.
Conditions continued to be so severe Wednesday night that motels in the Clarion area were packed with travelers.
“All of our rooms are fully booked because of a combination of the weather and the accident,’’ said Fred Workman, a maintenance worker at the Hampton Inn Clarion.
He said one motel guest said it took him three hours to travel the 18 miles from Brookville to Clarion during the height of the storm.