AUSTINTOWN — The commander of the Canfield Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol said Tuesday morning’s double whammy of vehicle crashes by the dozens in whiteout conditions — resulting in one death — was the biggest mess in terms of vehicles in his 13 years in Mahoning County.
“The whole area was a mess. It was a crazy afternoon,” Lt. Brad Bucey said of the episode that began at 10:18 a.m. a couple of miles west of state Route 46 and ended with the death of one person.
Alexander Penn, 22, of Youngstown died Wednesday in St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital of injuries suffered in the second wave of crashes Tuesday morning. Penn was a passenger in a Chevrolet Equinox, Bucey said.
Another man, William Bradford, 62, of Springfield, was taken to St. Elizabeth and remains in critical condition, Bucey said. Bradford was in a commercial vehicle, also in the second wave of crashes.
The first vehicle to lose control was a semi-tractor trailer that landed on its side, blocking all westbound lanes of travel at 10:18 a.m.
Once that happened, other vehicles started to apply their brakes and about 25 were involved in crashes behind it. About 50 other vehicles behind that — most of them commercial — did manage to stop and stay out of harm’s way.
But behind that, about 25 other vehicles crashed in a second wave, Bucey said. The crashes were spread out over a distance of about two miles.
“It was a huge crash scene,” Bucey said, adding that it was the largest number of vehicles involved in one crash during the time he has been at the Canfield post, starting in 2006.
Bucey said it is not yet determined what caused the first vehicle to lose control, but it happened in a “whiteout” of snow and wind, and the highway was probably slippery, he said. A determination of why the crashes occurred and charges are pending, he said.
There were no serious injuries in the first wave of crashes, Bucey said.
“We always like to put out the message of: pay attention to your speed and wear a seat belt. They save lives,” Bucey said of a takeaway from the event.
The patrol closed the westbound lanes throughout the day. It also closed the eastbound lanes to provide emergency vehicles a path to get into and out of the crash zone.
All of the vehicles involved — about 60 to 70 percent were commercial vehicles such as semi-tractor trailers and other vehicles — were removed from the highway at 2 a.m., allowing the highway to reopen to traffic, Bucey said.
It can be a long process to remove the load from a commercial vehicle before it can be removed from the scene, which made the clearing of the wreckage time consuming, the post commander said.
A separate crash involving a semi-tractor trailer took place Tuesday afternoon along Interstate 80 just west of the Salt Springs Road exit. Traffic was backed up in that location as that accident was cleared away. It was also backed up in that area as westbound traffic was diverted onto state Route 11 south.
A news release said anyone involved in the crashes should contact the patrol because information was not obtained from everyone. The number is 330-533-6866.