First snow leaves mark

Winter's arrival keeps cops, tire shops busy

Posted: Wednesday, November 13, 2002

When the first snowfall of the season began looking like it would amount to something Monday, the talk among Kenai police and fire dispatchers involved predicting when the traffic accidents would start.

Kenai Peninsula retailers, particularly those specializing in studded snow tires and other winter gear, braced for a rush of business.

Little did Kenai police dispatchers know, but the anticipated car crashes due to snow and ice-covered roads would occur within a period of just over two hours. Police responded to a total of six motor-vehicle accidents.

Fortunately for drivers in Kenai, all six accidents, which occurred between 12:07 and 2:32 p.m., were fender benders with no one seriously injured.

Traffic accidents, attributed in part to slick roads, began similarly in Soldotna with the first two occurring within eight minutes of each other at 11:04 and 11:12 a.m.

A serious crash involving injuries occurred on the Sterling Highway about a half mile north of the Fred Meyer store at 5 p.m.

According to police reports, a 1999 Jeep Cherokee driven by Jesse Renfrow, 67, of Sterling, was northbound when he lost control of the vehicle on glare ice, skidded into the southbound lane and was broadsided by a 2000 Dodge Neon driven by Jewell Bradford, 28, of Kenai.

Bradford had to be extricated from the Neon and was taken to Central Peninsula General Hospital for treatment of face and leg injuries. He remained there in "fair to good condition" Tuesday, according to a hospital spokesperson.

Renfrow was treated by Central Emergency Services medics at the scene.

In addition to assisting with that accident, Alaska State Troopers were called to six accidents involving damage to the vehicles and received requests for assistance with four vehicles that had gone off the road.

One particularly notorious spot was Mile 167 of the Sterling Highway in Homer, where an accident occurred at 10:36 a.m. and was followed by a vehicle in the ditch report there at 10:47 a.m., and another in the ditch there at 11:02 a.m.

Troopers also responded to a motor-vehicle accident near that same spot at 9:34 a.m. at Diamond Ridge Road.

In addition, troopers responded to other accidents in Kasilof, Nikiski, Homer and Sterling.

Soldotna Police Chief Shirley Gifford said Tuesday that numerous accidents happen often when roads first become icy in winter.

"Roads are slick and people need to slow down," Gifford said.

Before Monday, it was the "quiet before the storm," said Bill Parrish, manager at Alyeska Sales and Service in Kenai.

The store was geared for the "tire storm" and was just playing the waiting game for the last two to three weeks, he said.

"We were glad to see (snow) come," he said. "Most people wait for the first snow."

The store took care of about 20 percent of people wanting studded tires last month, he said. The other 80 percent wait for the snow.

Alyeska also winterizes vehicles. However, most people had their cars winterized already, Parrish said, so there were not many customers looking for that service Monday.

"It was dead before (Monday)," said Paul Schwenk of Johnson's Tire Service. "There was a line from the counter almost to the door all day."

Johnson's has an auto service center that does general maintenance and winterizes vehicles. But on Monday it concentrated on selling tires, Schwenk said.

The store was not as busy Tuesday because there was no snow, he said.

Vehicles weren't the only focus once the snow started to fly.

"The (sled) shelves were empty this morning," Soldotna Trust-worthy Hardware store manager Scott Miller said Tuesday.

"People get excited when it snows."

Some people prepare early for the snow, but the majority of winter item sales happen with the first and second snowfall, Miller said.

"The first snow is a big boost," he said.

At least half of the snow shovel sales happen with the first and second snowfalls.

The second biggest seller is sand. The store has an increase in ice melt products, tow straps, scrapers and broom sales, as well, said Miller.

The snow did not affect all businesses positively.

"It kept a lot of people away," said Dave Gilbertson, assistant manager at Alaska Industrial Hardware in Kenai.

The hardware store management was expecting an increase in business with the first snow, but "nothing was out of the ordinary," he said.

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