Dents and debris pile up following I-80 chain-collision |

Dents and debris pile up following I-80 chain-collision

The debris from the massive pile-up on Interstate 80 is long gone and lives are getting back to normal. But for one crazy day, everything stopped for many people.

White-out conditions on Monday are believed responsible for a chain reaction accident involving 21 vehicles that spread metal debris, gas and even furniture across both lanes of eastbound Interstate 80 Monday morning.

The accident occurred at approximately 8:10 a.m. at the Union Mills Grade just east of the California Highway Patrol scales.

Fourteen cars, six big rigs — including a moving van — and a correctional van were involved, but remarkably no fatalities were reported.

Steve Helton, general manager for the Truckee Sourdough Company, was headed to Reno on his delivery route with a truckload of fresh bread when he came up on the pileup.

“I saw a bunch of cars piled up in front of me, but was able to stop before hitting them,” said Helton, a Reno resident.

Unfortunately, the loaded pickup truck barreling down 80 behind Helton could not stop in time and plowed into the back of the bread truck, damaging the fender and rear doors, and leaving Helton with a mild case of whiplash.

“Then, while I was out looking at the damage to my truck, all of the sudden I saw several semis heading towards us at high speeds and I literally had to jump over the center divide to get out of the way,” he said. “Meanwhile I was on the phone, swearing and screeming to the cops about what was happening.”

Helton, whose job requires him to commute between Truckee and Reno sometimes as many as two to four times per day, said he felt extremely lucky and was surprised that more people weren’t seriously injured considering the magnitude of the accident.

Those involved in Monday’s accident included Marygrace Lopez, 24, of Reno, who suffered only moderate injuries when her car went under a jack-knifed truck.

“She told one of the officers she looked up and saw a truck across the road and she just leaned over into the passenger seat,” said California Highway Patrol Officer Kirk Bromell. “Obviously quick thinking saved her from serious injury. She was really lucky.”

Bromell said the cause of the accident is still under investigation, but added that the inclement conditions likely played a part.

“I would venture to say that the weather played a part. It was a chain reaction, but it was really four separate accidents,” he said.

In addition to Lopez, three other victims with minor injuries were treated and released at Tahoe Forest Hospital.

One of the trucks involved in the accident also spilled 50 to 60 gallons of diesel onto the road, but Nevada County Department of Environmental Health said it did not makes its way into the Truckee River.

“It was enough to where a hazmat team had to go out and clean it up,” Bromell said.

Eastbound lanes opened around 7 p.m. Monday night.

While the interstate was closed, with motorists headed towards Reno being rerouted at the Highway 89 North junction onto Glenshire Drive and through the Glenshire neighborhood. Longer detours took drivers to Lake Tahoe on Highway 267 or north to Sierraville on Highway 89.

Monday’s storm brought scant snowfall to the region, but coupled with blustery winds that reached 30 mph, driving conditions were reported to be at white-out conditions in some locations on Interstate 80 and Highway 89.

Weather conditions are expected to improve today with a slight warmer trend by the weekend. Temperatures will remain on the cool-side compared to summer-like temperatures last week.

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