Sterling crash hurts teacher

Posted: Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A Skyview High School teacher was injured in a vehicle collision at Mile 99 of the Sterling Highway on Tuesday afternoon.

Terri Zopf-Schoessler, 47, an English teacher at Skyview, was driving a minivan down a hill toward Soldotna about a mile south of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Landfill about 4 p.m. Tuesday when a truck towing a snowmachine trailer up the hill lost control on the ice, according to Alaska State Trooper Jeremy Gridme.

The truck, a 2003 Ford pickup towing an empty, older-model snowmachine trailer, apparently lost traction going up the hill toward Kasilof. Gridme said the driver of the truck, Jacob Fowler, 16, of Kasilof, overcorrected when the truck began to slide sideways on the ice into the oncoming lane and the trailer began to fishtail. The trailer collided with the 2000 Dodge minivan Zopf-Schoessler was driving, sending it into the ditch.

The truck skidded off the road into the opposite ditch, rolled and landed on its passenger side, with the trailer also on its side.

Gridme said passers-by stopped to help Zopf-Schoessler, Fowler and his passenger — his father, Glenn Fowler — get out of the vehicles. Zopf-Schoessler was walking and standing by the side of the road but started having back pain so she was transported to Central Peninsula General Hospital by Central Emergency Services, Gridme said.

Fowler and his father were not injured.

Gridme said that as of 5 p.m. Tuesday, Zopf-Schoessler still was at the hospital. He was hesitant to comment on her condition.

“Some of these things could wind up being worse in the evening, you don’t really know,” he said.

Zopf-Schoessler’s niece, Sami Glanz, said her aunt was doing OK when contacted at Zopf-Schoessler’s home in Soldotna about 7:15 p.m. Tuesday. Glanz said her aunt had X-rays taken of her back and was released from the hospital about 7 p.m.

“I think she’s all right,” Glanz said, and added that Zopf-Schoessler was thinking about still attending an Arctic Winter Games meeting Tuesday night. She is one of the directors of the opening and closing ceremonies for the Games.

Gridme said both lanes of the Sterling Highway were closed at the site of the accident for about an hour to allow tow trucks to remove the vehicles. Traffic resumed about 5 p.m., he said.

No charges had been filed as of Tuesday evening. According to witness statements both vehicles were driving 30 to 45 miles per hour, which is under the speed limit, Gridme said.

“The truck lost traction and that’s really what the cause of the accident was,” he said. “From the reports the driver just was not able to regain control.”

Gridme speculated that the driver of the truck may have downshifted going up the hill, which can cause the back end of a rear-wheel drive vehicle to slide sideways in slick conditions.

The trailer probably didn’t help matters.

“It’s difficult to say. I think it was a contributing factor in him not being able to regain control of the vehicle, with the trailer swinging side to side,” Gridme said.

“If there was a warning to be given, it’s just be cognizant of the fact that even if you are maintaining a speed lower than that of the posted speed limit, you just need to be aware that in icy conditions you never know what can happen. Even if you are going up a hill where you wouldn’t think you’d have a vehicle control problem, in icy conditions anything can happen.”



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