By Joe Beck -- firstname.lastname@example.org
A fatality and several other crashes within a few miles and a few hours of each other on Interstates 66 and 81 left traffic in chaos Tuesday in Warren and Shenandoah counties.
The Virginia Department of Transportation issued a traffic alert at 6:44 p.m. stating that the left and right westbound lanes at mile marker 4 on I-66 were closed by a tractor-trailer crash. Sgt. F.L. "Les" Tyler of the Virginia State Police confirmed at 8 p.m. that the crash was a fatality. He had no further details.
The right and left shoulders of westbound I-66 were also closed, according to VDOT.
Nine minutes earlier, VDOT had issued another alert that traffic at mile marker 299 in the southbound lane of Interstate 81 in Shenandoah County was backed up for about 11 miles. The agency reported the right lane and shoulder of the road were closed and warned motorists to "expect major delays due to numerous crashes."
The trouble began in mid-afternoon with two crashes reported within less than a mile of each other in the southbound lane of I-81. The second of the two crashes, at mile marker 299, left the cab of a tractor-trailer suspended over a bridge guardrail and above an embankment leading down to Cedar Creek. Another semi-tractor trailer with a dented rear end was parked about 30 yards south.
Traffic in the southbound lane reopened at 4:06 p.m. but was closed again within an hour and backed up for miles on westbound I-66. Not long after, VDOT reported the tractor-trailer crash at mile marker 4 on I-66.
Tyler reported the crash at the Cedar Creek bridge involved three tractor trailers, but that the sequence of events began with another crash that happened at 2:30 or 2:45 p.m. about a half mile south at mile marker 298. No details were available on the first crash.
Traffic had backed up from the first crash, which led to the Cedar Creek crash, Tyler said. He said one semi, a 1978 Peterbilt driven by Francisco J. Cerda-Bautisa, 26, of McClaren, Texas, came up on the slowing traffic and struck two other tractor-trailers from behind. Tyler said the Peterbilt went off the right side of the road and hit the bridge before coming to a rest with the cab hanging over the guardrail and the trailer remaining on the roadway.
Cerda-Bautisa was taken to Shenandoah Memorial Hospital with minor injuries, according to Tyler. He said Trooper D.A. Mauck issued a citation to Cerda-Bautisa for following too close.
Tyler said the crash caused some spillage of diesel fuel, and VDOT estimated damage to the bridge at $50,000.
Tyler said several other minor crashes were reported south of the tractor-trailer crash.
At about 4:30 p.m. in the southbound lane of I-81, three people involved in an crash about a half-mile north of the three tractor-trailers watched as tow trucks and paramedics finished clearing the scene.
Joyce Washington, 52, of Harrisonburg, reported that her husband, Lawrence, 52, also of Harrisonburg, was in the ambulance and being treated for neck and shoulder pain. Washington said she was "kind of shook up" and wanted to get "her neck checked out."
Washington said their car, a Lincoln sedan, was hit from behind by a Toyota Corolla at around the same time that the tractor-trailer went over the guardrail a half-mile ahead of them.
The driver of the Corolla, Michael Osborne, 79, also of Harrisonburg, agreed that he hit the Washington car from behind. Osborne said he and his wife, Joyce, 80, were uninjured.
Osborne said a third vehicle was also involved in the crash, but had already driven away. He said that vehicle was the first to be hit in the crash. It was struck from behind by the Washington car after he had hit the Washington car, Osborne said.
"I plowed into that one, and he ran into the one in front of him," Osborne said, describing the chain reaction after he hit the Washington car.
Osborne said he didn't know if the tractor-trailer crash a half-mile farther up the road played a part in his crash. He said heavy rain and traffic flow exiting from I-66 southbound onto I-81 was a major reason why he hit the Washington car.
"At that point, we got hit by this humongous rain storm," he said, describing the moments before crash as he entered I-81 southbound.