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Ice, Fog, Speed Lead To Virginia Pileup

January 6, 1999

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Jan. 7 – Four people were killed and 26 injured in an accident last weekend on Interstate 81 near Lexington, VA. Although officials have had a hard time determining the cause of the tragedy, they now say it appears a tractor-trailer traveling too fast for conditions set off the chain reaction. The driver of that rig was one of the people killed in the crash.

In all, the accident involved eight tractor-trailers, six cars and a state police cruiser. The northbound lanes of the interstate were closed for almost 12 hours Sunday, and the wreckage of two of the trucks wasn’t cleared until the next day.
Tennessee trucker Hubert Austin apparently slid on the icy, fog-shrouded bridge over Buffalo Creek, sideswiping a police cruiser still parked on the shoulder since an earlier accident, and crashed into another tractor-trailer on the shoulder.
The crash happened in the home state of Republican Rep. Frank Wolf, who has been trying to get Congress to move oversight for truck safety out of the Federal Highway Administration and into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Wolf and various safety groups charge that the FHWA is too cozy with the trucking industry.
“This highway is one of the most heavily used truck routes in the region,” Wolf told the Associated Press, “and with truck-related fatalities on the rise, I think we need to take another look at what we can do to keep everyone safer.”
Traffic on I-81, which stretches 325 miles in Virginia, has tripled in the past 24 years. The interstate was designed to handle 15% truck traffic, but estimates place the amount of truck traffic on the road today at as much as 40%.

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