What Caused the Pa. Turnpike Pileup?

By NBC10 Staff
|  Saturday, Feb 15, 2014  |  Updated 11:25 AM EDT
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A look from a nearby overpass of the wreckage along the eastbound lanes of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

NBC10.com

A look from a nearby overpass of the wreckage along the eastbound lanes of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

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Pennsylvania State Police continue to investigate the cause of a massive pileup on the Pennsylvania Turnpike that involved as many as 100 vehicles. A day after the traffic nightmare, officials are now exploring ice, winds and drivers going too fast as possible causes.

State Police say several drivers lost control of their vehicles around 7:45 a.m. on Friday in the eastbound lanes of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Lower Southampton Township, Bucks County.

The first accident left five tractor-trailers and 10 cars tossed up in a mangled mess about a mile from the Bensalem interchange on the eastbound side of the toll road. A series of crashes occurred right after that and within minutes, wrecked vehicles stretched five miles back. The scene overhead looked like something out of a disaster movie. SkyForce10 photojournalist Jeremy Haas was the first to see the scene from that vantage point.

"It looked like multiple cars couldn't stop," said Haas.

Lisa Terreri and her husband were in a much more precarious place -- on the ground, behind the wheel, in the middle of it all.

"We just started seeing a lot of minor accidents, a lot of cars trying to brake but they couldn't brake in time, Terreri said. “We could see that the road had a lot of frozen ice on it."

Terreri and her husband were able to stop, and wound up stuck between two of the crash scenes.

Tom Hilley from Downingtown was behind the wheel of another vehicle and not as fortunate. He hit another car.

"I ran into him. He ran into me. These trucks plowed into them. It was...bouncing around like a pinball machine out here," said Hilley.

Police confirmed all three accounts of the scary incident.

“For unknown reasons several drivers lost control of their vehicles,” a Pennsylvania State Police spokesperson wrote in a released statement. “These vehicles impacted with each other and came to a stop in the lanes. While stopped in the lanes, several other vehicles including tractor trailers were also unable to stop and impacted the already stopped vehicles. This caused a chain reaction of vehicles striking each other.”

The multiple accidents left more than two dozen motorists injured and hundreds of people stranded along the stretch of road between the Willow Grove and Bensalem/U.S. 1 exits in the Feasterville-Trevose area of Bucks and Montgomery Counties. The eastbound side of the Turnpike was shut down and drivers were forced off at the Willow Grove exit. At times, the westbound side was closed too so that rescue crews could use the inner lanes to get the injured out and on their way to local hospitals including Temple and Abington Memorial.
The Turnpike finally reopened on the eastbound side shortly before 4 p.m.

Investigators have not yet determined what set off the series of accidents though there is some speculation. State Police say they are looking at wind, drifting snow, patches of ice on the roadway and drivers traveling too fast as possible causes.

The speed limit on the Turnpike had been restricted to 45 miles an hour due to Nor’easter, which dumped more than a foot of snow in much of that area. But those speed restrictions were lifted on Friday before the crashes.

NBC10 First Alert Weather meteorologist Tedd Florendo says he doesn’t believe wind played a role at all. According to Florendo, winds were only gusting at 9 miles per hour in the area at the time of the accident, far below the 35 to 40 mph gusts it would take to impact vehicles. Instead, Florendo says slush left over from the nor’easter could have been a cause.

“There was still so much slush left over on the road,” Florendo said. “It just takes one little turn to cause an accident. Even if you have four-wheel drive, any vehicle will slide in slush.”

NBC10 First Alert Weather meteorologist Bill Henley said sun glare may also have been a factor for drivers who were traveling directly towards the sun.

"The other factor is, it happened shortly after sunrise and what most people don't realize is that just after sunrise is the coldest time of day," he said. "So, what may have been unfrozen overnight may very well have been refrozen at the time of this accident."

Police say the investigation remains open. All of the victims suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
 

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