(Clockwise from top): Traffic backed up from Grapevine to Gorman after a big rig lost its brakes and hit 10 vehicles, injuring 11 on New Year?s Eve. Dense fog rolled up the Grapevine from the San Joaquin Valley, forcing the injured to be transported to emergency helicopters waiting in Lebec near El Tejon School.
By Patric Hedlund with Katy Penland
A runaway big rig carrying corrosive hazardous materials on the northbound Grapevine section of Interstate 5 hit 10 passenger vehicles and sent 11 people to hospital at about 12:50 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.
Truck driver Adam K. Beller from Alta Loma, California was unable to slow his vehicle and then lost control on the downgrade just north of El Tejon School, according to Sean Collins of the Kern County Fire Department.
Witnesses said the truck was going “about 40 miles per hour” at first and gradually picked up speed.
The runaway truck came upon traffic that was slowing due to dense fog rising into the pass from the valley. California Highway Patrol units were “pacing” traffic through the area because of low visibility at the time.
CHP reports that Beller’s truck (owned by Mauce Express, Inc. of Lebanon and Somerville, New Jersey) collided with a Ford Sedan, then over a distance of about 2,500 feet, collided with eight more vehicles. One of those was a passenger van with 11 passengers.
The van was pushed up onto a bank and overturned, causing minor to major injuries.
Although there were no fatalities, nine victims were transported to hospitals in Valencia and Bakersfield, four via helicopter and five via ground ambulance. Los Angeles County Fire Department sent a helicopter from the south because the fog was too dense to fly out of Bakersfield.
Twenty-five firefighters from Kern and Los Angeles Counties responded.
“No one was trapped in their vehicles and the hazardous materials did not overturn; they stayed in their containers,” KCFD’s Collins said.
Collins also explained widely varying estimates of the number injured in initial official reports: “The first report I received from dispatch was 27 people injured. That would have come from someone on the scene calling to report the accident,” Collins said. There were 36 people (drivers and passengers) involved in the accident according to CHP reports.
Traffic was backed up all the way across the Grapevine to Gorman as the accident scene was cleared.
CHP reports that an inspection of the truck and trailer showed the vehicle’s brakes were “out of compliance” and that alcohol was not a factor.
By 4:55 p.m., CHP was again escorting northbound traffic in groups of 50 from the Lebec Road overpass through the Grapevine exit due to the continuing heavy fog.
This is part of the January 09, 2009 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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