Two Die in Pileup Involving 42 Vehicles

By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Two people were killed and dozens were injured yesterday in a massive pileup on westbound Interstate 70 in Maryland, near the border of Frederick and Washington counties, authorities said.

The chain of crashes began about 12:30 p.m. on South Mountain, about 10 miles west of Frederick, and involved 35 passenger vehicles and seven commercial vehicles, including tractor-trailer rigs and box trucks, said state police spokeswoman Elena Russo. Snowfall of 1 1/2 inches might have contributed to the crash, she said.

In the few minutes that passed as the crash unfolded, drivers screamed and people leapt from their cars, said Julie Barr-Strasburg, executive director of the Washington County Red Cross chapter. One man jumped out before his car was struck from behind; a woman worried about a fire or explosion and fled into the woods lining the highway; and another man was hit by a car as he tried to escape the wreckage, she said.

"It just happened so fast," Barr-Strasburg said. "They would come up over the mountain and there was nothing they could do."

After the crash, a dozen injured people were taken to Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown. An additional 78 people -- including a couple with a baby and a Virginia church youth group headed to the White Tail Ski Resort-- were bused to a Red Cross shelter in Hagerstown for pizza and chicken, dry clothes, counseling and a long wait for a ride home. Five families were unable to secure a ride, so the Red Cross booked motel rooms for them.

The accident victims were mostly Virginia and Maryland residents, Barr-Strasburg said, although there were also a few people from Michigan and Ohio. Police withheld the names of those killed because their relatives had not been notified.

The westbound lanes of I-70 were closed all afternoon and into the night, as state police investigated the crash and cleared vehicles from the highway. The road reopened about 11 p.m.

Traffic was diverted along Route 40 through Myersville, past the Myersville Family Restaurant on Main Street.

"That's all I've seen all day -- cars and trucks waiting for hours," restaurant owner Connie Semler said at about 9:30 p.m. "You can hardly get out of our driveway. . . . By the looks of it, it's going to be backed up for a while."

Staff writer Ruben Castaneda contributed to this report.

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