Leader Blues

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

TOP STORY > >Ice storm factor in traffic death

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

Freezing drizzle that hit the area Monday night caused at least one traffic fatality, a heart attack, closed all school districts in central Arkansas for at least one day and increased ambulance runs by 36 percent.

The local area was hit with about three-tenths of an inch of sleet coating roadways and bridges with just enough ice to make travel treacherous and even deadly for one Jacksonville resident.

Lester Holmes, 47, died from injuries received in a four-car accident Monday evening at Broadway and Palm in North Little Rock. The accident is still under investigation by the State Police to determine who was at fault and how much of a factor weather played in the accident. Two other people were injured in the accident and taken to area hospitals.

In Cabot, an 18-wheeler slid off Hwy. 67/167 near exit 19 and shortly afterward the driver had a heart attack. Late Tuesday afternoon, Cabot Mayor Eddie Jo Williams said the driver had been transported to the hospital, but he didn’t know the driver’s current condition.

Williams called Cabot “pretty devastating from a traffic stand- point.”

“I just wished everyone had stayed home Tuesday,” he said, adding, “we’ve had a lot of issues and several roads were closed most of the day. Our street department has been out all day and we’ve asked for state support.”

Sgt. Brent Lucas of the Cabot Police Department said, “We’ve definitely been busy with accidents all day.”

What worried the Cabot mayor the most Tuesday was that he felt the storm issues were “not over yet.”

State Police with Troop A, which covers Faulkner, Lonoke, Pulaski and Saline counties, worked 70 accidents from 6 p.m.

Monday to noon Tuesday, including the one fatality.

Little Rock Air Force Base was closed Tuesday to all non-essential personnel and those same people were told to wait to report until noon Wednesday.

Both Jacksonville and Sher-wood police said they worked some minor accidents, but overall things were quiet on the city streets.

Sherwood Police Lt. Cheryl Williams said, “We had about six reported accidents between 5 and 7 p.m. Monday and assisted State Police with one accident on Hwy. 67/167. Tuesday morning we had about 15-20 assists. These were not necessarily accidents, but people calling for help because of the weather.”

Metropolitan Emergency Medical Service (MEMS) saw about a 36 percent increase in calls from 3 p.m. Monday to 2 p.m.

Tuesday compared to the same period the day before.

Jon Swanson, with MEMS, said, “We had 253 runs during the ice storm compared to 186 the day before.”

The ambulance service serves all of Pulaski County, except Jacksonville, and Cabot, as well as large portions of Faulkner and Grant counties.

“During the storm time period we had two calls in Sherwood city limits and 16 in Cabot,” Swanson said.

Swanson pointed out that even though there were a lot of vehicle accidents, most of the calls came from people injured in falls.

“When the weather is bad, most drivers slow down, so even though there are a lot of accidents, they aren’t as severe. But in falls, people are hitting their hips, heads, necks and often suffering serious injuries.” Swanson stressed the need to be very careful trying to walk on ice.

Jacksonville’s Public Works Department also stayed busy. “We had trucks out at start of the storm,” said Public Works Director Jim Oakley, “which was about 3:30 p.m. Monday and worked throughout the night, dumping loads of a salt-sand solution on city bridges and intersections, until about noon Tuesday.”

Overall, Oakley said, about 72 tons of the sand-salt solution were dumped on Jacksonville streets and bridges.

One of the city’s street department trucks was hit Tuesday morning when a driver slid through a stop sign into the truck.

“I felt sorry for the woman,” Oakley said. “She’s a nurse at North Metro and had made it all the way down from Mt. Vernon and then slid through a stop sign on Braden Road by the hospital.”

According to the National Weather Service in North Little Rock, sleet hit the area even though Monday’s high was 64 degrees.

The problem was that high was just after midnight Sunday, and by 6 a.m. Monday morning the temperature was 33 degrees.

The current forecast called for the possibility of more sleet or freezing rain Tuesday night since the high temperature for the day never went above freezing.

Today’s highs are forecasted to be in the mid-40s, and by Friday the mercury will hit the mid-60s, with a chance of rain each day.

City hall was closed in Beebe on Tuesday, but Police Sgt. Brian Duke said he was busy all day with accident reports mostly from Monday before area residents realized how bad the roads actually were.

As soon as the freezing rain started Monday afternoon, vehicles started sliding off the road, he said. One ran off the overpass on Hwy. 54.

Another slid off the overpass on Hwy. 31 and into a cedar tree. At about the same time a small truck collided with an empty school bus on top of the Hwy. 31 overpass. And later that evening, another ran off Dewitt Henry Drive.

There were no injuries in the Monday accidents and by 4 p.m. Tuesday, there were no new accidents.

Duke said many of the motorists simply left their vehicles where they came to rest and came in to the police department on Tuesday to fill out reports.

“That’s what I’ve been doing all day, catching up on accident reports,” he said.