Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Seward DieWay

Gary Mogg and Tony Perea, right, of Alyeska Towing prepare to throw a hook into the wheel well of a Chevrolet Avalanche pickup awash in Turnagain Arm after an accident Friday afternoon at Mile 98 of the Seward Highway.

One dead, 20 injured in Seward Highway accidents

ICE: Two vehicles hit the water; troopers cite conditions, slippery road for wrecks.

Twenty people have been hospitalized and one person has died in the last three days from accidents on a 60-mile stretch of the Seward Highway, Alaska State Troopers said.

Friday afternoon, a pickup careened off the highway near Bird Point and ended up partially submerged in the icy waters of Turnagain Arm. The night before, another vehicle skidded off a bridge and over a guardrail into 20 Mile River.

Girdwood troopers Sgt. William Welch, who polices the zone from McHugh Creek to Hope where the accidents have occurred, said people are driving too fast for the thin layer of ice on the highway.

"All of (the accidents) were caused by driving too fast for the road," he said.

The Seward Highway -- with its majestic views of Turnagain Arm -- is the only road south of Anchorage to Seward, Soldotna and Homer. Also regularly traveled by commuters in Girdwood, it is one of the most heavily trafficked roads in the state. But Welch says impatient drivers -- whether it's speeders in the summer or those not paying enough attention to icy, snowy conditions in the winter -- need to slow down.

Welch said early Friday evening he hasn't even had time to do all the paperwork on the recent spate of accidents because the calls keep coming in.

Friday afternoon, the third accident of the day on the highway was a dentist who lost control of her Chevy Avalanche at Mile 98 north of Bird Point. Jamie Chiang-McCasland, new to Seward from Texas, was driving to Anchorage about 2:30 p.m., according to a friend who was driving in another car.

Chiang-McCasland was driving about 55 mph in the far right lane of the four-lane straight stretch of road when she lost control, skated across the lanes, and veered off the highway. The Chevy bounced over the Alaska Railroad tracks, flipped, and landed in the snow topped waters of Turnagain Arm, troopers and a witness said.

"She just hit it and got sucked in and kept going," said friend Bobby Newnam, who watched the accident from the rearview mirror of his Saturn. "It scared the you know what out of me."

Chiang-McCasland wore her seat belt and was not injured. She was able to crawl out of the pickup as it began to sink into the arm, Newnam said. The vehicle's horn sounded, with its lights on, as the water rushed in, he said.

"The angels had her," he said.

An hour after the accident, only the pickup's roof was visible. A tow truck was preparing to pull it out of the water. Because the pickup rolled over the railroad tracks, Alaska Railroad authorities stopped all trains until the tracks could be inspected for damage, said Dana Massey, contract security officer with the railroad.

Less than 24 hours before Chiang-McCasland's accident, two people in a Dodge Durango soared off the bridge and plunged into the dark, frigid water of 20 Mile River Thursday night. Welch said the two occupants, who suffered hypothermia, were taken to a hospital, and released.

"I think the ice cushioned their fall so they could get out," said Gary Mogg, the Girdwood-based owner of Alyeska Towing and Repair, which retrieved the truck. "Everything must have been working right for them."

Jared "Jet" Kuhnley, a driver with the towing company, said he had to fish for the vehicle with a hook from the bridge, because it was completely submerged and invisible. Once he and Mogg got the grapple attached, they hoisted it to the surface and managed to drag it sideways to the bank, Mogg said.

Kuhnley said he's been doing his job for 10 years, and he always seems to be busier when snow first starts to fall.

Chiang-McCasland's Friday accident was within sight of where 31-year-old Barbara Osborn of Kenai died Wednesday afternoon in a two-vehicle wreck. Osborn's 2005 Ford Focus swerved into the oncoming lane on the icy road and into a Plymouth van occupied by an adult driver and five children. The driver, Jamie Bordelon, and the children were injured and taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Welch said the accidents began to mount Wednesday when low temperatures and precipitation created a layer of icy wrap over the roads -- nearly invisible to the eye but treacherous.

"People need to slow down, monitor their speed and adjust their speed for the roads," Welch said.

Daily News reporter Megan Holland can be reached at


K said...

I just emailed that to Marty. I've never heard of someone's vehicle making it all the way out to the water. I can only imagine what was going through that poor womans mind when she realized where she landed.

We're driving down to Homer not long after Marty gets home. After reading this I can say we'll be a lot more cautious.

FishTaxi said...

Heres the trooper report of the Dodge Durango. These kids were lucky!

Location: Mile 81 Seward Hwy.
Case number: 05-93696
Type: MVA-I
Text: On November 10, 2005 at approximately 1:15 p.m., Alaska State
Troopers responded to a motor vehicle accident at the 20 Mile River
Bridge at mile 81 of the Seward Hwy. Investigation determined that a
2000 Dodge Durango driven by Jorel Fain, 27 years old of Kenai, was
proceeding southbound on the Seward Hwy. when he lost control of his
vehicle on the ice covered roadway. The vehicle slid approximately 63
feet on top of the guardrail and then went up onto the bridge rail. The
vehicle continued to slide along the top of the bridge rail for about 60
feet and then went over the bridge into the water. The vehicle broke
through the ice and sank out of sight. Both Fain and his passenger, Tia
Johnson, 23 years old of Soldotna, were able to get out of the vehicle
and climb the embankment to the highway where they flagged down a
passing motorist. When Troopers and the responding medics arrived on
scene the two were inside a passing motorist's vehicle being treated for
severe hypothermia. Both were transported to an Anchorage hospital for
treatment of their injuries and hypothermia. The vehicle was later
recovered from the river and was a total loss.
Author: (PERMID here)
Received and posted Saturday, November 12, 2005 12:14 AM

riding 60 ft on TOP of the guard rail? wow

K said...

No kidding wow. Glad to hear these two are ok.