Pileup Involving 60 Vehicles on Ontario Highway Leaves Eight Hurt
A haze of red brake lights, barely visible in a whiteout, was the first sign of trouble ahead seen by an off-duty paramedic driving home Friday afternoon.
The second sign, seen by his mother in the passenger seat, was a driver going in the opposite direction, hanging out of his window, flailing his arms and warning westbound motorists on Hwy. 401 to slow down.
In front of them were at least 60 snarled vehicles piled up in a chain-reaction accident that left at least eight people injured. Ontario Provincial Police said three people were in critical care at Lakeridge Health in Oshawa and one was rerouted the trauma centre at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.
"I have never seen anything that big. My initial reaction was an overwhelming feeling that there would be quite significant injuries," said the paramedic, Matt, who did not want his last name published.
He got out of his SUV to help and found three other motorists trapped in their damaged vehicles. "I couldn't do anything for them except to tell them to remain in their cars, they were crumpled so badly," he said, adding that the only injuries he saw were minor.
"As we were let out, I did see the original accident. The damage was quite extensive to those. It was mostly front end damage from hitting each other," he said.
The accident happened around 3 p.m., about 80 kilometres east of Toronto.
Ontario Provincial Police went from car to car, checking for injured people on the closed 10-km. stretch of highway between Newcastle and Newtonville, said Aaron Lazarus, spokesperson for Lakeridge Health.
The cause of the crash has not been officially determined, but OPP Const. Linda Wolf notes there was fresh snow and poor visibility. Paramedic Matt said he was on his way home from a shopping trip in Port Hope when the weather suddenly turned foul.
"It was snowing just a little at first. Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, it just went white," he said.
About 50 motorists got out of their vehicles and offered help. "I didn't have a coat on and a complete stranger gave me a sweater," he said, adding that others provided blankets to those trapped in their vehicles.
Several busloads of people were transported to Newcastle Community Hall to fill out paper work and speak with collision investigators.
At about 7:30 p.m., tow trucks started removing smashed-up vehicles, gradually opening up a route for the backlog of traffic. The OPP said eastbound lanes were expected to open at 10:30 p.m. Friday and westbound lanes were to open at midnight or 1 a.m. Saturday.
Dennis Deeley, of Bowmanville, was en route home from his cottage in Brighton when he got stuck near the Newtonville Rd. exit. "As soon as traffic stopped, I reset my odometer. I've moved 1.2 km in three hours," he said. For the first hour and a half, traffic never moved at all, he said, as his 13-year-old greyhound, Ellie, slept in the back seat.
Deeley said the road was slick from the weather - "just glazed with ice, so it's good we're not moving quickly."
Cole Janetas, 16, was returning home to Whitby after high school in Port Hope when he got stuck in traffic in a school bus with 55 of his peers.
"We got a pretty good view of what's going on and, wow, I've never seen anything like this before. There's a bunch of cars sideways, upside down, twisted, it's crazy," he said. "We're kind of going insane to be honest with you ... we're really hungry, I had a bunch of protein bars and I ate them and I'm all out."
With files from Alex Nino Gheciu, Alyshah Hasham and The Canadian Press
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