Police respond to accidents caused by first snowfall

First come, first swerve
Photo by M. Scott MoonKenai Fire Department medics and other motorists help extricate one of two victims of a single-vehicle accident on the Kenai Spur Highway on Tuesday afternoon. Icy roads kept emergency workers busy much of the morning.

The Kenai Peninsula’s emergency response agencies hurried themselves Tuesday addressing the area’s many road accidents. The season’s first snowfall caused drivers to swerve into each other and off the road.

 

“This is pretty normal,” said Soldotna Police Sgt. Robb Quelland. “Everyone has to get re-accustomed … on winter driving. We plan. We know it’s coming and when it happens, (drivers) are just unprepared.”

The long lines at auto shops are an indication of the lack of preparation. People should plan for snow by Oct. 15, Quelland said.

All agencies responded to calls throughout the day and into the evening. Road flares, redirected traffic and rubbernecking passers-by dominated drivers’ Tuesday commutes. Some of the accidents resulted in injures, so emergency responders were out in full force, too.

Drivers should remain overly cautious during the first days of snowfall, authorities said.

Five car accidents occurred in the Kenai from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Kenai Police Sgt. Ben Langham said.

None of the accidents were fatal or life threatening, but three rollovers sent drivers and passengers to the hospital, Langham said.

“We’ve been actually pretty lucky in terms of accidents we’ve had,” he said.

Both Langham and Kenai Fire Department Chief Mike Tilly said accidents are common during the first few days of snow.

“Obviously the primary cause is the slick road conditions,” Langham said, “but I think that a lot of the time it catches people off guard, and they don’t realize immediately just how bad the road conditions are.”

Peninsula residents can expect one or two more days of snow alongside cooler temperatures and northern winds, said Anchorage National Weather Service Forecaster Sam Albanese.

Less than an inch of snow was expected to accumulate, Albanese said.

Tilly advises drivers to watch for black ice when temperatures drop at night.

“This is just the beginning of the things to come,” Tilly said. “So I encourage everybody to stay buckled up while they’re driving, drive within their means and just be aware of the ever changing road conditions that we’re going to see here in the coming months.”

The Soldotna Police Department responded to five accidents — during which residents reported everything from “vehicles in distress” to ditch-diving caravans — from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. One of the accidents was a collision and the others were vehicles in the ditch, two at Funny River Road and two at Kalifornsky Beach Road.

“That’s pretty consistent with the influx of traffic into (Soldotna),” Quelland said.

Worst-case scenarios involve vehicles flipped over on their roofs. As of 4 p.m., the Police Department responded to two such accidents, Quelland said.

Two units generally respond to those accidents; one unit secures the scene while another investigates the accidents. Three or four agencies, such as Central Emergency Services and the Alaska State Troopers, respond to the accidents at the same time.

Passers-by generally do not stop for accidents; they tend to call them in to dispatch, so the local police departments often receive a flurry of calls for one accident. Quelland encourages residents to see if people are in need of assistance, which helps emergency responders react accordingly. They should not, however, attempt to move injured people.

Also, giving emergency personnel ample room to pass is important.

The troopers received 11 reports of vehicle accidents, none of which resulted in injuries, said troopers’ spokeswoman Megan Peters in an email. They also received nine reports of vehicles in ditches.

The number of cars ditch diving was probably closer to 18, as most of the reports involved two vehicles taking the plunge. Those vehicles did not collide, she said.

The roads will clear up; people are now on alert. But another day of accidents is bound to happen, Quelland said. The next snowfall will be coupled with its fair share of accidents. As days get colder and roads get icier, there will be more accidents at stop signs, he said.

 

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.

Dan Schwartz and Rashah McChesney contributed to this report.

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