Charges are pending against the driver of a car that hit a tractor-trailer Wednesday morning, causing the truck to swerve, jackknife, turn over and slide into the center concrete wall on Interstate 77, said Cpl. Bryan McDougald of the S.C. Highway Patrol.
The wreck, which knocked out part of the wall and sent debris flying across eight lanes of traffic, crippled York County's morning commutes.
Lisa Blevins, 42, of Rock Hill was merging onto I-77 North from the Celanese Road on-ramp, then changed lanes improperly, according to McDougald. Her 2002 Chrysler struck the tractor-trailer which was carrying 17,000 pounds of cargo, he said.
Thousands of frustrated drivers waited in traffic jams that stretched for miles. With the county's primary route into Charlotte clogged, drivers sat in barely-moving traffic for hours. All lanes of I-77 didn't reopen until about 4 p.m.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"It was a worst-case scenario," said Allan Terry, a S.C. Department of Transportation assistant incident management engineer. "Everything just happened at the wrong time."
Heavy morning traffic and only a few bridges crossing the Catawba River meant all vehicles normally using the four, wide lanes of I-77 had to bottleneck down to a single northbound lane of U.S. 21, he said. That's a recipe for severe delays in an area that hosts more than 123,400 vehicles everyday, according to the S.C. DOT.
Multiple lanes were closed on both sides of the highway while emergency workers removed debris and extinguished a fire burning in the wreckage, McDougald said.
No one was killed in the wreck. The tractor-trailer was going the 60 mph speed limit, McDougald said.
Blevins, her passenger and the truck driver were taken to Piedmont Medical Center to be treated for injuries. A hospital spokesman said she was in good condition Wednesday evening. A passenger and the truck driver were both treated and released Wednesday, the spokesman said.
Traffic backed up almost four miles on the northbound side of I-77 during the height of rush hour around 8 a.m. And cars on York County's main routes to I-77 sat still waiting: Cars going north on Cherry Road backed up to Cherry Park, cars going north on Anderson Road backed up to Dave Lyle Boulevard and cars going west on Celanese backed up to India Hook Road.
Drivers trying to escape the jams by getting to Charlotte through the Lake Wylie area ended up waiting in stop-and-start traffic up S.C. 274 and crossing the Buster Boyd Bridge.
Many drivers said their commutes to Charlotte and Fort Mill took more than three hours.
The traffic delays raise questions about planning for future emergencies, but officials say traffic was rerouted according to plan.
"From everything I know, they did a great job," said Cotton Howell, director of York County Emergency Management. "When we look at our major traffic corridors, they're sufficient for the time being and the near future."