Truckee resident survives nasty I-80 big-rig crash
Donner Lake resident Bob Schmidt was running a little late to his 7 a.m. business breakfast in Reno Wednesday when he saw several thousand-pound pipes fly over the Interstate 80 median just 100 yards in front of his year-old Audi.The pipes, which were catapulted from a semitrailer that overturned in the westbound lane, rocketed toward him at an alarming speed.”These pipes went flying across the road like they were pieces of toothpicks,” said Schmidt, 73, now safe, but a little sore, in his Donner Lake home. “One hit in front of me and there was nothing that I could do but pray.”Pray and slam on the brakes. The pipe, covering both lanes, smashed into his car, setting off both airbags.
The semitrailer’s speed was estimated at 77 mph by the CHP, and Schmidt had been going around 70 mph.”You can just imagine the energy that those pipes had as they were rolling down the road,” Schmidt said.The impact completely wrecked his car, and notched a wedge into the steel water pipe. Schmidt’s Onstar system began talking to him, notifying him that an ambulance was on the way, and the car slowly filled up with smoke.His vision blurred, and in a state of shock, Schmidt sat in his car until a woman came by and helped him out.
“She was very insistent that I get out of the car,” Schmidt said.Meanwhile, the semitrailer was blocking both lanes and its cab was dangling over a cliff that dropped to the Truckee River. A helicopter dropped in to airlift the driver out, but he had to be extricated from the twisted cab first.The interstate was shut down in both directions. The eastbound section opened first, and by 9:30 a.m., both directions were flowing again.By that time Schmidt had taken an ambulance ride to Tahoe Forest Hospital. He was released with no serious injuries. The semitrailer driver was airlifted to Washoe Medical Center, where he was treated for a compound fracture. His injuries were not life-threatening, according to the CHP.
The accident was caused by the semitrailer driving at unsafe speeds on a curve, the CHP said. The trailer’s load shifted, flipping the vehicle and sending it sliding down both westbound lanes. Looking back on the accident, Schmidt still pictures the pipe speeding toward his car. Given what could have happened, he feels extremely fortunate.”Suppose those pipes were bouncing on the road at windshield-level,” Schmidt said. “I am the luckiest guy alive, quite frankly.” Schmidt, meanwhile, said he would like to personally thank the woman who helped him from his car. Schmidt believes that she is a school teacher in the area. He can be reached at 582-1645.
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Caltrans is continuing intermittent Interstate 80 ramp closures between Kingvale and the Nevada state line for construction activities this week.