Winter weather’s return causes havoc on roads

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Icy road conditions Tuesday caused road closures and widespread crashes across West Michigan, including one that was deadly.

The fatal crash happened on M-43 near Gull Lake around noon. A 56-year-old Hastings man was killed when his car rolled over. His name wasn’t released.

In Kent County, two drivers were seriously injured in a head-on crash on Walker Avenue north of 4 Mile Road NW. The crash happened around 2:40 p.m. and the roadway was still closed an hour later.

>>Inside woodtv.com: Current traffic conditions

SALT TRUCK, AMBULANCE IN CRASHES

Before 10:30 a.m. in Grand Rapids, a city truck was trying to salt the hill on Prospect Avenue at Trowbridge Street NE when it started to slide, banging into at least five other vehicles. 

Ramiro Ortiz’s SUV was among the vehicles hit. He told 24 Hour News 8 a car had already slid into a van before the salt truck joined the mix.

“Oh, I got out of the way because with that much load and still sliding, you know it’s bad,” he said.

Also in the morning, an ambulance was hit by vehicle when responding to a slide-off crash on Cascade Road near East Beltline Avenue in Grand Rapids Township. There were no patients in the ambulance at the time and there are no reports of injuries.

CAR SLAMS INTO DECK

Around 8 a.m. near Hudsonville, a student heading to school lost control on icy roads and smashed into the front deck of a home along Van Buren Street.

The loud noise drove homeowner Robert Daems from this bed.

“It sounded like an airplane hit the house,” he said.

When he went outside, he found his front deck in pieces. The teenaged driver sat in his car, shaken but unharmed.

“Came down into the yard, slid underneath the deck with his car, took all the supports out,” Daems explained.

In addition to the shattered deck, the foundation of Daems’ home sustained some damage.

He said he would put up signs in front asking delivery drivers to head to the back and another inside the front door, now several feet off the ground. 

“’Don’t walk out the door,'” Daems said the sign would read. “‘Cause it’s along fall.”

CRASHES & CLOSURES

In Gaines Township, there was a multivehicle crash on 84th Street between Hanna Lake and East Paris avenues. Dutton firefighters said they had to use the Jaws of Life to free one driver. Two people were hospitalized; their conditions were not known later.

Another crash forced authorities to shut down the westbound I-96 exit to Fruit Ridge Avenue near Walker, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation, though it has since reopened.

Westbound I-96 at US-131 in Grand Rapids was closed for more than two hours because of multiple crashes, but MDOT says it has since reopened and everyone is OK.

>>App users: Photos of crashes on icy roads

The National Weather Service and Kent County Road Commission urged drivers to use caution because of black ice.

ROAD COMMISSION: BAD TIMING

The slippery road conditions were blamed on freezing drizzle and cold temperatures. And the timing, Kent County Road Comission officials said, couldn’t have been worse.

“We’re talking about freezing rain, 30 degrees or less starting just before rush hour,” Jerry Byrne, the deputy managing director of operations for the road commission, said.

Byrne said freezing rain tends to have a different psychological effect on motorists than snow.

“They see wet. They don’t think about it being icy. They think it’s raining, their windshield wipers are taking it off. The reality of it (is) it’s freezing,” he explained.

Light freezing raining began around 4:30 AM. Temp below freezing equates to icy conditions. Crews treating state & primary roads, but slippery conditions will persist for AM commute.  Road looks wet? They’re actually icy. Reduce speeds & leave plenty of room between vehicles. pic.twitter.com/fkGyfMnh9S— Kent County Road Com (@MIKCRC) January 15, 2019

Byrne said that it’s harder for road crews to get out ahead of ice than it is for them to prepare for snow. Pretreating roadways with salt before an ice event isn’t much of an option, both because of effectiveness and environmental impact, especially when it’s hard to tell exactly when and where a storm will hit.

“In this case, we didn’t know about when it was coming. It didn’t come countywide. And should we be putting on a thousand tons of salt and have traffic blow it off into the ditch because the storm didn’t hit timing wise?” Byrne said. “There’s a thousand cars an hour go down that freeway, and salt’s not going to lay there until it starts freezing rain. It’s going to be blown out onto the shoulders, into the ditch, into the water streams.”

WHEN TO UTILIZE EMERGENCY SERVICES

Amid the slew of crashes, Grand Rapids police reminded people that they don’t always need to call police if they’re in a fender bender. If no one’s hurt and both cars are drivable, drivers should exchange license, vehicle and insurance information and take pictures. They then have 72 hours to file a report at the police department for the city.

With people slipping on the ice, Spectrum Health reminded people to avoid the emergency room for minor injuries. Officials advised those people to head to an urgent care center or see someone online through MedNow.

A Winter Weather Advisory is in effect for Newaygo, Muskegon, Montcalm, Ottawa, Kent, Ionia, Allegan, Barry, Van Buren, Kalamazoo, Calhoun counties until 10 a.m. Wednesday.

More than 100 local closings or delays were reported Tuesday morning.

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Inside woodtv.com:

Storm Team 8 Forecast

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