Damage of I-55 wreck includes hazardous spill 2/14/2014

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 14, 2014

Damage of I-55 wreck includes hazardous spill

By John Howell Sr.
A young Panola County first responder who was assisting a victim who had been slightly injured in an auto accident on icy I-55 early Saturday, Feb. 8, looked south toward the Pope exit and knew in an instant that an approaching northbound 18-wheeler would not get stopped in time.
“When I saw it coming, I told the lady, ‘we’d better go,’” the first responder said.

The 18-wheeler was approaching a cluster of vehicles that had stopped on the Long Creek bridge over I-55 after a Nissan Maxima had spun out of control and another 18-wheeler had jackknifed in getting stopped, blocking both lanes.

Stopped behind them, the first responder said, were six more 18-wheelers and three or four cars.

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The impact knocked the cab of one of the trucks off its chassis, knocked another into Long Creek, forced the Maxima driver to jump from the bridge to avoid being overrun in the chain reaction collision, forced the driver of a loaded car carrier to plow ahead through the stopped cars to protect his cargo from the collision’s impact, and forced the spillage of potentially hazardous chemicals into Long Creek. Among other things.

The collision occurred shortly after 2 a.m. Saturday after first responders were already busy tending to minor accidents, most caused by drivers who failed to anticipate that ice first forms on bridges.

Panola County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Daniel Cole said that the response forced closing I-55’s northbound lane at the Pope exit for over 12 hours — until almost 3 p.m. Saturday.

Multiple agencies from the Courtland, Pope, Bynam and Batesville Fire Departments to the Mississippi Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) became involved, he said.

Miraculously, injuries, with one possible exception, were minor.

“God put a shield over Long Creek bridge,” the first responder said.

Medstat brought five ambulances to the scene, spokesman Barry Eskridge said, borrowing two from neighboring counties to allow one ambulance to remain available for other emergency response.

Five victims were transported to Tri-Lakes Medical Center. One patient was transferred from there to the Elvis Presley Trauma Center in Memphis, Eskridge said.

Law enforcement officers from the Mississippi Highway Patrol and the Panola County Sheriff’s Department assisted at the scene. Batesville police officers handled traffic diverted from northbound I-55 at the Pope exit, north on Hwy. 51 and back to I-55’s Batesville interchange via Hwy. 6, Cole said.

Workers from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, including its law enforcement division also responded, the EMA director continued.

Cole said that the MDEQ response came due to spillage of oil and diesel. He said that a small fire broke out during the melee. Also, a corrosive material was spilled from a “bob truck that went into the creek,” he said.

He said that MDEQ technicians monitored water quality and determined that impact to water quality was negligible.

Assorted wreckers were summoned to untangle the wreckage, including a Shivers Towing “Rotator.” The Rotator used its swiveling boom to pick up the vehicles in Long Creek and place them back onto the roadway, Cole said.

And the first responder who was just 15 yards from the Long Creek bridge when it all started? At his request, he remains anonymous, seeking to distance himself from the litigation that is probably inevitable following the collisions.