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Jolt of winter weather creates nightmare on some area roads

Rollovers, spinouts, delays, ‘chain runners,’ but no major injuries
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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The first signs of winter weather in weeks had police out in force responding Tuesday to a multitude of traffic incidents in Grass Valley, along Interstate 80, and a couple in Auburn, including a Mercedes rollover crash.

For all the headaches and hardships, only minor injuries had been reported as of Tuesday evening.

In Auburn, two cars crashed in separate incidences about 30 minutes apart on I-80, and both times it had been attributed to poor tire conditions, CHP spokesperson David Martinez said.

“People wait for the tires, for the windshield wipers, and here it is, it starts coming down one day and at that point it’s already too late,” Martinez said. “You need to prepare for that ahead of time.”

A 32-year-old Greenwood man told police he had been driving 50 mph eastbound on I-80 when his bald tires lost control causing him to spin out and roll the Mercedes into the center divide, Martinez said.

He had been transported to Sutter Roseville Medical Center after complaining of pain, but “he’s fine,” Martinez said. A woman also lost control nearby on eastbound I-80 in her Honda Accord with poor tires and struck a wall but was uninjured, he said.

A number of “chain runners,” drivers who either do not stop for chain control checkpoints or continue past them without having proper chains, played a significant part in causing about a 30-minute delay on I-80, said Rochelle Jenkins, California Department of Transportation spokesperson.

I-80 traffic headed east had been held at Colfax and Applegate and west at Truckee and the Donner Lake Interchange while crews worked to clear various spinouts, a majority attributed to ill-equipped vehicles that had illegally driven past chain controls, Jenkins said.

“Some people will stop and be told, ‘You need to move over here and get your chains on,’ and they just keep moving and blow through,” she said. “Some don’t even stop.

“The last chain installation area is in Truckee before you head (west) up the hill. It’s sunny, and eventually you get about three or four miles up the hill, and you get into a blizzard. … It goes from all to nothing in a very short period of time.”

Chain controls remained in effect Tuesday evening, and conditions were expected to remain hazardous until this morning, she said.

Between 1 and 2 p.m., CHP had around 20 active incidents it had been responding to in Grass Valley, as the weather caused the area to be “extremely hazardous” to drive in, CHP officer Justin Barnthouse said.

It had been “by far” the worst day for traffic incidents in that area of the year, and also the worst since 2010, Barnthouse said. A few minor injuries occurred, but people avoided any major harm, he said.

“It’s people not driving slow enough,” Barnthouse said, “… then trying to decelerate too quickly by pressing the brakes.”

The CHP dispatched officers to the most hazardous areas, such as Highway 49 and Highway 20, and though it was a challenge to meet the heavy demand, “our officers are doing a pretty good job,” he said.

“Right now the biggest challenge is getting Caltrans out where they need to go,” Barnthouse said. “Because of the collisions, the roadways are blocked, so Caltrans can’t plow any farther due to the blockage.”

He estimated 4 inches of snow accumulated during a roughly two-hour span that afternoon in Grass Valley, and around 2 p.m. the precipitation started turning to slush.

“We’re getting low snow. We’ve had a long period of no snow, so our attention span is down and we’re back into the learning curve,” Jenkins said. “The biggest thing is slow down. Leave lots of distance between you and the vehicle in front of you, and be prepared for winter driving conditions.

“We are still in winter, and this is a friendly reminder from Mother Nature … or not so friendly if you’re involved in one of the incidents.”

 

Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews