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Eight hurt in 401 pileup in whiteout

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Eight hurt in 401 pileup in whiteout

The chain-reaction crash shut down the highway for hours.
KELLY PEDRO, Free Press Reporter   2004-01-14 03:49:47  

A 10-vehicle pileup in whiteout conditions sent eight people to hospital and closed a stretch of Highway 401 near Rodney for hours yesterday. And with the London region expected to plunge back into the deep freeze today, highway driving won't get any easier.

The morning chain-reaction crash began when an eastbound transport truck went out of control and headed toward the median, said Elgin OPP Const. Jennifer Wilks. A mix of cars and transports swerved to miss the tractor trailer, causing a series of collisions.

The tractor trailer emerged unscathed but five cars and five other transports were involved in the chain-reaction pileup just before 10 a.m. near Graham Road, about 11 kilometres east of Rodney.

The highway was closed in both directions as police investigated, causing traffic backlogs that stretched for kilometres in the highway's east lane.

Bearing the brunt of the crash were two transport trucks that sandwiched a car between them, partially submerging the Mercedes station wagon in carrots from the sheared-off trailer of one rig.

A man and woman in the car had only minor injuries.

"They're extremely lucky," said Wilks. "If it had been six inches one way or another they could've hit a different part of the truck and it would've been a different outcome."

Venu Nair was asleep in the back of the truck carrying the Texas-bound carrots, while two colleagues were up front, when he woke up on the floor.

"There were two to three bangs from behind," he said.

"There was no time for thinking. The guys were outside and they were calling me, 'Come on,' because the truck was burning," he said, motioning to a truck with a burned cab that had collided with his truck.

Nair said he jumped from the vehicle and ran to one transport truck on its side to check on the trapped driver.

"I got to him and he said, 'Help me. Help me.' I couldn't see him clearly because there was total wreckage," he said.

West Elgin volunteer firefighters cut the man free. He and another man in a separate truck were flown to a London hospital with serious injuries.

Six others were taken to area hospitals with various injuries.

Trucker Marty Fick was heading home to the Windsor area.

"I saw a lot of cars go everywhere," said the trucker, whose vehicle ended up in a ditch. "I just saw brake lights. I hit the brakes and prayed to God I didn't hit anybody."

Londoner Kayle Moore, who was headed to Windsor for a business meeting, ended up in the ditch when his car spun as it drove through the mess of carrots.

Moore said he looked up from the ditch to see a transport barrelling down on him.

"I actually got out of the car because I thought he was going to hit me. He did all he could to avoid me. I'm walking around because of his driving ability," Moore said, adding he approached the trucker afterwards, shook his hand and said thank you.

Wilks said witnesses reported whiteout conditions at the time of the crash.

Still, she said, people often drive too fast for winter conditions and should slow down.

"You always wonder how much following distance there was," she said.

OPP asked motorists to avoid driving yesterday and warned of snow and ice-covered roads in some areas.

Today's forecast calls for a high of -9 and a low of -20, with the temperature not expected to rise above zero through Sunday.

The Middlesex-London Health Unit issued a cold- weather alert as a result, urging extra precautions.

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