Weather cited in multi-car I-80 pileup
An eight-car pileup on Interstate 80 Friday afternoon left two people in critical condition and seven others injured.
A morning snowstorm left roads wet, but the three-lane bridge at the Donner Lake Interchange was covered with a smooth layer of ice as temperatures dropped.
The California Highway Patrol reported that Kathleen Johnson of Sacramento was driving westbound on I-80 at about 55 mph. When her car reached the bridge around 4:30 p.m., she lost control and her car slid into the center median guardrail.
She was able to drive her car to the right shoulder to assess the damage.
Five other drivers who witnessed the accident pulled their cars to the shoulder to assist Johnson.
Included in the witness list was big rig driver Richard Sannebek of Sacramento. He offered to help Johnson pull her Nissan Pathfinder’s fender from her tire.
The others stood near the car, while Johnson’s passenger attempted to call 9-1-1 to report the accident.
CHP reports said only minutes after the initial accident, a 1990 Chevy Suburban driven by Sacramento resident Benito Magdaleno approached the bridge at speeds above 70 mph.
Magdaleno lost control of his vehicle and slid 367 feet uphill and to the right toward the parked vehicles. His vehicle slammed into the rear of the Pathfinder throwing the Pathfinder violently forward upon impact, according to reports.
The Pathfinder struck Sannebek in the face and head and catapulted him over the guardrail and down the steep, snow-covered hillside.
The Pathfinder struck Johnson, pinning her face-down under the vehicle. She received third-degree burns from the muffler that was forced to rest on her back.
In addition to the burns, Johnson broke her femur, left knee, facial bones and pelvis, and suffered severe facial cuts. Sannebek received blunt head and body trauma and was taken to Washoe Medical Center in Reno.
Four others were thrown over the guardrail when the Pathfinder lunged forward. Two were rescued by pulling them from the embankment with jumper cables tied together.
Johnson’s passenger was thrown into the back of the Pathfinder upon impact, while other pedestrians at the scene were also injured. Assorted injuries included broken ribs and arms, severe bruises and cuts and a thumb dislocation.
The injured were taken to Tahoe Forest Hospital by Truckee Fire Protection District and Donner Summit Fire Department ambulances.
Ron Wulff, CHP public safety officer, said the cause of the accident was Sannebek’s excessive speed.
“There were signs posted at the agricultural station that warned of the conditions,” he said. “There are also signs before the bridge that warn that the bridge may be icy. He was going too fast and hit his brakes when he went into the slide.”
Other accidents followed shortly as the temperatures dropped and the snow fell throughout the weekend. There were 18 incidents involving vehicles along the interstate and Highway 267.
“Friday was a mess,” Wulff said. “We have no idea how many people ended up in snowbanks. We were lucky we had only one incident with bad injuries.”
Additional accidents Friday
As emergency personnel were rescuing the people from the pileup, the accident reports rolled in:
— 4:58 p.m. – a vehicle hit the center divider on westbound Interstate 80 east of Highway 89 North. North Tahoe Fire responded to cover Truckee Fire.
— 5:23 p.m. – a vehicle slid out of control and overturned on eastbound Interstate 80 west of the Central Truckee exit.
— 6:08 p.m. – North Tahoe responded to a single vehicle rollover on Highway 267 and Estates Drive.
— 6:10 p.m. – North Tahoe responded to a non-injury accident on Highway 267.
— 8:15 p.m. – Donner Summit Fire is dispatched for a mutual aid request at Interstate 80 and Highway 20 involving a fatal vehicle accident.
— 9:31 p.m. -Nevada County Sheriff’s Office responds to a single vehicle accident involving a car into a ditch on Northwoods Boulevard.
“Most of the vehicles involved in accidents were sport utility, 4-wheel drives,” Wulff said. “Every year we have to remind people to slow down, no matter what type of vehicles they are driving. Four-wheel drive cars will slide just as far as 2-wheel drives, especially without chains.”
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Nevada County is now likely to remain in the red tier barring “extenuating circumstances,” thanks to changes to the state’s reopening blueprint announced this week.