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State police identify victim of fatal crash

By Joe Beck -- jbeck@nvdaily.com

A West Virginia man died Tuesday evening when his vehicle struck the rear of a tractor-trailer stopped in traffic on the westbound side of Interstate 66 six-tenths of a mile east of Va. 637, state police reported Wednesday.

Thomas Edward Mitchell, 59, of Great Cacapon, W.Va. died at the scene around 6:30 p.m., Sgt. F.L. (Les) Tyler of the state police said.

Tyler said Mitchell's 2004 Chevrolet Express van slammed into a 2009 International tractor-trailer that was part of a traffic jam extending for miles down westbound I-66 and southbound Interstate 81 around the point where the two roads join.

Mitchell's death was the culmination of a rash of non-fatal accidents that paralyzed traffic in the area for hours.

The first two accidents came in rapid succession and within a mile of each other on southbound I-81. State police said they fielded a report of the first accident between 2:30 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. at the 298 ½ mile marker. The first accident slowed traffic and quickly contributed to a second accident involving three tractor-trailers that produced the first massive disruption.

A southbound tractor-trailer hit the back of two other tractor-trailers, went over a guardrail on the right southbound side of I-81 and came to a rest suspended in mid-air above an embankment leading down to Cedar Creek, according to state police.

State police identified the driver of the tractor-trailer hanging over the guardrail as Francisco J. Cerda-Bautisa, 26, of McClaren, Texas. They said he received minor injuries and was transported to Shenandoah Memorial Hospital. Trooper D.A. Mauck ticketed Cerda-Bautisa for following too closely.

Other, non-fatal accidents continued within a few miles of the same area and froze traffic for hours along I-81 and the westbound lane of I-66 in the hours before the fatality.

The Virginia State Patrol is the lead law enforcement agency for accidents on interstate roads, but Maj. Scott Proctor of the Shenandoah County Sheriff's Office said Wednesday that a rash of accidents like that on Tuesday affects traffic throughout the county as drivers seek alternate routes.

"To be honest with you, we work very few accidents on the interstate," Proctor said. "Generally, I know it causes a good bit of disruption in the county when the interstate gets closed off, and of course we have to deal with the chances of something else occurring" as traffic leaves the interstate and begins to build up on two-lane roads.

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