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Spring snow contributes to 15-car pileup in Wise

March 26th, 2014 11:05 am by Stephen Igo

Spring snow contributes to 15-car pileup in Wise

WISE -- A spring snowstorm pounding New England on Wednesday left its mark across Southwest Virginia on Tuesday, featuring brief but boisterous mini-blizzards and hazardous driving conditions, particularly in Wise and Dickenson counties.

Wise County schools that were put on a noon through 4 p.m. snow delay schedule for Wednesday were finally declared closed for the day.

A multiple vehicle pileup occurred in the midst of one of those mini-blizzards on U.S. Route 23 near the Town of Wise at around or just before 8 p.m. Tuesday as motorists drove from areas of no snow at all, or mere lightly drifting flurries, straight into a wall of wind driven white stuff.

Virginia Department of Transportation Wise Residency Administrator Allan Sumpter said the chain reaction pileup occurred just north of the Food City/Lowe's area to a Rt. 23 connector known in Wise as Monkey Hill.

"It took a little while to get things cleaned up but, again, it was one of those areas our staff tells me where it wasn't snowing hard at all from the Norton end coming this way (toward Wise), but just past the Food City area it was just a total downpour where you could hardly see to drive at all. Then you go out a little further (beyond the Monkey Hill connector) toward Indian Creek Mountain and conditions were clear again," he said.

"You just have those localized heavy snowfalls that can cause difficulties where visibility was low and unanticipated, just a sudden wall of snow."

Wise Police Chief Tony Bates said as many as 15 vehicles were involved, 10 of those crashing into other vehicles but the others managing to steer into ditches. A mini-blizzard was bad enough but the whole shebang may have been avoided if not for an allegedly inebriated driver, he said.

"It was my understanding that the driver of the initial vehicle involved was actually arrested for DUI," Bates said. 

The northbound lanes were shut down for nearly an hour while things got cleared up, and the town closed Norton Road (the wintry heartbreak slope leading in and out of downtown Wise known variously as Library Hill or McDonald's/Walmart Hill, depending on what side of the hill one is on) for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, Bates said only one person involved in the multiple-vehicle Monkey Hill collisions had minor injuries "and it was my understanding he refused to go to the hospital."

By mid-morning Wednesday Sumpter said a lot of secondary routes were snow covered, primarily in Wise and Dickenson counties, with "most primaries in pretty good shape." Temperatures expected to rise into the high 30's if not low or mid-40's will be a boost to road conditions, he added.

Sumpter could not confirm a Tuesday night report that a portion or portions of U.S. Route 23 were shut down by jackknifed trailer tractors on Jenkins Mountain at or across the Kentucky border, but he wouldn't have been surprised.

"Conditions were pretty tough last night at times. We had several times where we saw whiteout conditions and had some accidents that occurred because of that. When whiteout conditions develop, it's kind of comparable to summer rain storms where you can drive along and it's not raining at all, and then you run into a rain storm where you can't hardly see to drive. Those are kind of the conditions we had last night, but with (wind driven) snow, of course."

Snow accumulations weren't significant but more than enough to create hazardous driving conditions, as much as 2.5- to 3-inches in some places, particularly across areas of Wise and Dickenson counties.

"The good thing about it was, we didn't have a great deal of accumulations. And as the sun warms up the asphalt today, that will help with melting quite a bit," Sumpter said.

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