Congested traffic detour on Rt. 11 in Rockbridge County during a 2012 incident on I-81.
It was a recipe for disaster. As rain and fog moved into the Shenandoah Valley Sunday afternoon, driving conditions deteriorated for travelers along the rural, hilly Interstate 81 and eventually resulted in a devastating 41-vehicle pileup in Rockbridge County near Lexington that included six tractor-trailers and took hours to clean up.
Most areas of I-81 are two lanes wide with passenger cars and 18-wheelers jockeying from lane to lane in a sometimes-white knuckle drive while trying to make it safely to destinations. Many who travel the route regularly have tales to tell about nightmarish wrecks, weather conditions, crazy drivers, tail-gating, and tractor-trailers. Jersey concrete barriers along construction zones add to the hazards, and may travelers have sat in stand-still traffic at one time or another.
Sunday was one of the worst. Thankfully, no lives were lost although more than a dozen injuries were reported, and travelers sat parked on the interstate for seven hours while emergency personnel cleared debris.
Reporter Zach Crizer with the Roanoke Times wrote:
Sgt. J.F. Murphy, also of Virginia State Police, was among the nine troopers who dealt with the pileup Sunday night. He said it's unlikely investigators will ever determine exactly what or who started the crash, but he suggested the common practice of tailgating may have been a factor.State Police Sgt. A.D. Nicely said it could have been worse but that some truck drivers made split-second decisions to steer their vehicles off the road:
He said brakes were applied at the front of a pack of cars, setting off a chain reaction that rippled a mile and a half down the road.
Murphy said speed was not a factor, as most of the cars were traveling at less than 50 mph because of the rainy conditions. Still, he said the tightly packed traffic on a wet road was a recipe for disaster.
The officer said some truck drivers veered off the road and overturned to avoid hitting other vehicles, likely saving lives.Waynesboro reporter Chris Graham, owner of the Augusta Free Press, began reporting on the accident Sunday afternoon as he posted on Twitter and Facebook and it was quickly picked up by Valley residents who passed the word along by social media.
"I believe that decision on their behalf saved us a lot more injuries or fatalities," Nicely added. "You don't know what would have happened when you start having 80,000-pound vehicles slamming into 2,000-pound vehicles."
Quite frankly, as one who lives here and often drives I-81, I'm surprised accidents don't happen more often although they certainly happen enough. Sunday's wreck was just one more incident and proved to be a rough way for many travelers to end the weekend.
Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell