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Slick roads cause accidents, injuries

Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Warmer temperatures and slicker roads made for treacherous driving conditions for Kenai Peninsula motorists over the holiday weekend. But despite road closures, avalanches and black ice, only one vehicle collision resulted in injury.

Personnel from the Kenai Fire Department and Central Emergency Services responded to a vehicle collision at Mile 4 of the Kenai Spur Highway near Silver Salmon at approximately 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Kenai Fire Marshal Eric Wilcox said a medic unit and fire engine responded from the Kenai Fire Department along with a command unit out of the department's airport station. CES provided mutual aid with a medic unit and a rescue truck. Wilcox said the collision involved two vehicles and paramedics took three patients to the hospital, but couldn't say what caused the collision.

Soldotna had its share of car accidents, but CES Capt. Lesley Quelland said no one was injured. She said there was a fender bender that involved a moose Sunday night, but the department didn't respond to it.

Instead, personnel from CES's Kasilof Station headed into the Caribou Hills at 4:30 p.m. Saturday to bring back an injured snowmachiner. Quelland said Ninilchik Emergency Services responded with a medic unit, but got stuck at the end of Oilwell Road.

"(We) responded with an ambulance, a pickup and a snowmachine, and a sled to assist with the patient," Quelland said.

CES's rescue sled is stored at a cabin in the Caribou Hills and fortunately for rescue workers, the cabin owner, former CES employee Rick Northey, was there with retired Soldotna police officer Larry Davis. "(Northey) grabbed the rescue sled, assisted the patient, got him bundled up and was able to bring the patient out at the pad by the time our medic unit (was there)," she said.

Quelland said Oilwell Road was especially dangerous on Saturday night. CES vehicles drifted in a number of places, she said, and they had to resort to four-wheel drive in order to get into the Caribou Hills. Personnel was back at the Kasilof station at 11 p.m., she said.

"The weather's been wreaking havoc in different ways all around the peninsula," she said. "One of the greatest hazards are when temperatures warm up and it starts to rain. Motorists aren't conscious enough to slow down. There is a greater opportunity for accidents to happen when it starts warming up like this."

Soldotna police officers were kept busy with three minor accidents on Saturday. Johnny Whitehead, a Soldotna police officer, said officers cited a driver for failure to exercise due care after their car rear ended another car at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling Highways at approximately 1:05 p.m. Fifteen minutes later, officers cited another driver for driving too fast for road conditions after they lost control of their car near the corner of Fireweed Street and Corral Avenue and crashed into a light pole.

"Normally that's what happens when you go down the road and put the breaks on and the vehicle doesn't stop," Whitehead said.

Another accident occurred at 3:38 p.m. Saturday at the intersection of the Kenai Spur Highway and Marydale Drive, but Whitehead said no one was cited. No accidents were reported on Sunday.

Peninsula motorists traveling on the Seward Highway and through the Turnagain Pass area had to contend with road closures and whiteout conditions, including a vehicle collision at Mile 3. The Alaska Department of Transportation closed the Seward and Sterling Highways intermittently on Sunday and Monday as a result of avalanche conditions. Beth Ipsen, public information officer for the Alaska State Troopers, said DOT closed the Seward Highway twice on Sunday, initially because of an avalanche on the roadway and later because of avalanche control.

"Recently, they closed (the Seward Highway) at the Y and rerouted traffic through the exit ramp to do avalanche mitigation," she said in an e-mail on Monday.

Ipsen said motorists can get more information on road advisories and closures by calling 511 for highway information or logging on to http://511.alaska.gov. Trooper dispatch was inundated with calls from motorists seeking that information and reporting bad road conditions, she said.

"There were two particular (bad driving points) around Cooper Landing and the Ninilchik-Anchor Point area," she said, adding that one woman called trooper dispatch three times to report bad driving conditions. Despite this, "there haven't been any reported injuries," she said.

Warmer temperatures in the Kenai Peninsula are expected to last until Thursday. Bob Clay, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Anchorage, said storms moving toward Kodiak Island and Southwest Alaska are pushing warm air over Southcentral Alaska. One storm in particular will bring with it windy conditions along the north gulf coast, Portage Valley and Turnagain Arm areas. Clay said forecasters expect things to cool off by the weekend.

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.



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