Thursday, October 23, 2014

Holiday travel off to slick start after weekend

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 12/23/2013

More than 100 motorists found out midday Saturday that navigating I-35 from Ottawa to Williamsburg was a slippery and treacherous slope.

“The calls started coming in around 11 [a.m. Saturday], and we had 15 or 16 wrecks in a very short time on I-35,” Rick Geist, Franklin County undersheriff, said. “It came on very sudden.”

More than 100 motorists found out midday Saturday that navigating I-35 from Ottawa to Williamsburg was a slippery and treacherous slope.

“The calls started coming in around 11 [a.m. Saturday], and we had 15 or 16 wrecks in a very short time on I-35,” Rick Geist, Franklin County undersheriff, said. “It came on very sudden.”

In fact, so many wrecks and slide-offs — including overturned SUVs, vans and a couple of semi-trailers — occurred almost instantaneously that I-35 had to be shut down from about 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday between Ottawa and Williamsburg to allow law enforcement officials from multiple agencies an opportunity to clear the northbound and southbound lanes, Jeff Richards, Franklin County sheriff, said.

“We had over 100 calls come in during about a 1 1/2- to 2-hour time period, starting around 11, that were either crashes or slide-offs because of the freezing rain,” Richards said.

Many of those calls, he said, were related to wrecks and slide-offs on I-35, particularly near the rest stop in the Homewood area.

Extra officers and dispatchers had to be called in to handle the volume, Geist said.

Richards, Geist and some of their deputies had to transport some travelers back to Ottawa for shelter from the sub-freezing temperatures and freezing rain while they waited for their vehicles to be towed, Geist said.

“There are still some vehicles out there [in the county] that will have to be towed,” Richards said Monday afternoon.

Richards attributed some of the crash volume to the heavy holiday traffic Saturday on I-35.

“A lot of the wrecks I worked were people from out-of-state that were just passing through on their way somewhere for Christmas,” Richards said. “Very few were local [residents].”

The wrecks did not result in any serious injuries, Geist and Richards both said.

“They were mostly bumps and bruises and scrapes,” Geist said. “There were no serious injuries that I’m aware of.”

Veteran law enforcement officials Geist and Richards attributed the limited number of injuries to the fact most motorists and their passengers were wearing seatbelts.

In Ottawa, city crews — working 13- and 12-hour shifts — were busy treating and clearing streets from 11 a.m. Saturday to noon Sunday, Andy Haney, the city’s public works director, said.

City crews working the first shift primarily were spreading salt and limestone chips — which are crushed into sand — in an effort to mitigate the effects of the freezing rain midday Saturday, Haney said.

“The second crew was primarily plowing the snow and refreshing the salt/chat [limestone chips] mixture,” Haney said.

Ottawa recorded 2.6 inches of snowfall Saturday, according to the observation station at the city’s water treatment plant at the Marais des Cygnes River.

“Ice under snow makes a difficult situation, but I’m not aware of any particularly difficult locations that may have been reported,” Haney said. “Bridges are always a focus.”

City crews were continuing to make clean-up efforts during normal work hours Monday, Haney said.

No serious-injury wrecks were listed in Ottawa police reports for the weekend.

A vehicle driven by a 65-year-old Ottawa woman struck a pole Saturday at the Davis Avenue and K-68 intersection, according to a police report. The report listed unsafe speed for existing road conditions as a contributing factor. No injuries were reported.

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