Four major crashes, including one that left a person dead, caused a traffic nightmare Tuesday morning on both sides of the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270 in Montgomery County.

In a span of about three hours, the crashes occurred along two of the most heavily traveled highways in the Washington region. And they happened within a few miles of each other on each roadway, making it tough for commuters to find detours. Portions of both interstates were shut down for several hours, well into the morning rush.

“You had tractor-trailers, various cargo and fuel spills that required hours of cleanup,” Montgomery County Fire Department spokesman Pete Piringer said. “It’s not unusual to have crashes when it rains, but to have four significant wrecks, closing a lot of lanes in a short period of time a couple of miles apart is not a good way to start off a Tuesday morning.”

The causes of the crashes have yet to be determined, but Piringer said it was likely that speed, wet roads and early-morning darkness were contributing factors.

The traffic mess started about 2:30 a.m. along the Beltway’s inner loop near the Connecticut Avenue interchange in Bethesda, after a tractor-trailer carrying a load of New Yorker magazines jackknifed, Piringer said.

The magazines spilled onto the rain-slicked highway, closing inner loop lanes for more than six hours as crews cleared the mess. Traffic backed up beyond the I-270 spur before all lanes reopened about 10:30 a.m. No one was seriously injured.

Another crash occurred about 15 minutes later on northbound Interstate 270 in upper Montgomery County.


A view of traffic on Tuesday morning after a crash along the Capital Beltway's inner loop near Connecticut Avenue. (NBC4 Washington/Brad Freitas/NBC4 Washington/Brad Freitas)

Around 2:45 a.m., a truck carrying 43,000 pounds of potatoes tipped over near Old Hundred Road in the Hyattstown area, spilling fuel and requiring hours of cleanup by hazmat crews. Piringer said no one was seriously injured.

As for the potatoes, Piringer said he didn’t think they all spilled. All lanes reopened about 10 a.m.

At 3:15 a.m. on the Beltway’s outer loop, a driver lost control near the New Hampshire Avenue interchange in the Silver Spring area. A passenger in the front seat of the Acura MDX, identified as Michelle Kaplan, 71, died in the crash. Three other people inside the vehicle suffered injuries not considered to be life-threatening, authorities said.

The fourth crash occurred about 30 minutes later on Interstate 270.

In that incident, a double tractor-trailer and another vehicle collided along southbound I-270 near the Route 27 interchange in the Germantown area. Piringer said the tractor trailer left the road, went down a creek and up a hill before stopping about 200 feet from the highway.

The truck was carrying nonhazardous cargo, he said, although crews had to clear fuel that spilled. Piringer said traffic delays were mainly the result of cleanup equipment being off the roadway and drivers rubbernecking. No one was seriously injured.