I-77 open after 95-vehicle crash that killed three near Virginia-NC border

slyttle@charlotteobserver.comApril 1, 2013 

  • Fancy Gap crashes Sunday’s 95-vehicle crash on Interstate 77 in southern Virginia is the latest in a lengthy list of collisions on that stretch of the highway – all of them caused by fog or other bad weather. Here are some of the crashes in recent years:

    Feb. 14, 1997: 56 vehicles involved in fog-related collisions in southbound lanes between mile markers 6 and 7. Two killed, 12 injured.

    •  Oct. 5, 1998: 46 vehicles involved in fog-related collisions in northbound lanes near mile marker 7. Fifteen injured. •  May 22, 2001: 50 vehicles involved in fog-related collisions in southbound lanes near mile marker 5. Twelve injured

    Nov. 16, 2010: 75 vehicles involved in fog-related collisions in northbound and southbound lanes between mile markers 4 and 7. Two killed, 16 injured.

    •  March 8, 2011: Colorado driver killed when his car hits a boulder that fell into the northbound lanes near mile marker 4. •  March 31, 2013: 95 vehicles involved in fog-related collisions in southbound lanes near mile marker 6. Three killed, 25 injured.

Virginia authorities worked Monday to contact the relatives of three people who were killed in a 95-vehicle crash Sunday afternoon on Interstate 77.

Virginia State Police officials said Monday afternoon they were not yet able to release the names of those who died in 17 separate multi-vehicle collisions along 1 1/2 miles of southbound I-77, just north of the N.C.-Va. border.

It was at least the fifth fog-related multi-vehicle crash on that part of I-77 in the past 16 years on Fancy Gap Mountain.

A spokesman for the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office said Monday morning that a number of motorists spent the night at an American Red Cross shelter at the Hillsville VFW Hall because their vehicles were damaged or destroyed in the wreck. At one point Sunday evening, about two dozen people were at the shelter.

Traffic was stopped on southbound I-77 for about 16 hours and on the northbound side – which was used by ambulances and wrecker trucks – for 11 hours.

“This mountain is notorious for fog banks,” Glen Sage, of the American Red Cross office in Galax, Va., told the Associated Press. “They have advance signs warning people. But the problem is, people are seeing well – and suddenly they’re in a fog bank.”

State police say the chain reaction started somewhere near mile marker 6, and it involved six cars and a tractor trailer. After that, vehicles kept plowing into one another as they drove down the steep incline – some of them at speeds of 60 to 70 mph. Those motorists, headed toward the North Carolina border on a busy holiday travel weekend, went from relatively good weather to dense fog, with a visibility of about 100 feet, in a matter of seconds.

It was the same sort of conditions blamed for fatal multi-vehicle crashes in the area in May 2001 and November 2010. Each of those collisions took place near mile markers 6 and 7.

Interstate 77 drops 1,289 feet over a 6.2-mile stretch, and there are three emergency ramps on the southbound side for truckers and other motorists whose brakes fail. The grade exceeds 5 percent in places.

One motorist told the Roanoke Times she saw a woman getting out of a wrecked car – just as a tractor-trailer slammed into it. The motorist said that when she left the scene a short time later, the woman was still lying on the roadway, motionless.

Injured motorists were taken to Twin County Regional Hospital in Galax, Va.; Northern Hospital in Mount Airy; and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem.

Virginia transportation officials installed electronic message boards several years ago, warning motorists of the dense fog. But police said Sunday that motorists often are fooled by good conditions north of Fancy Gap Mountain and are driving at the speed limit when they suddenly encounter the fog.

The Associated Press and Roanoke Times contributed.

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