Patrick Hicks was driving east on Interstate 64 near Williamsburg Sunday morning when he narrowly avoided the massive chain-reaction crash that would gain national attention as the number of involved vehicles grew to almost 70.
There were 51 people reported injured in the chain-reaction crashes, most of which had been released from the hospital by Monday morning.
Riverside Health System saw 45 patients Sunday from the crash, according to an email from spokesman Peter Glagola.
At Riverside Doctors’ Hospital in Williamsburg, one person was admitted and 20 people were treated and released. In Newport News, at Riverside Regional Medical Center, two patients were admitted and 22 people were treated and released.
Another six people were reported injured and treated at Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center and Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond.
As a driver who’d managed to make it across the bridge safely, Hicks said he felt a sense of helplessness knowing that there wasn’t anything he could do to help the other drivers behind him that were “not as lucky.”
State police spokeswoman Michelle Anaya said in a news release that dispatchers started receiving calls around 7:51 a.m. Sunday about the crash in the westbound lanes on the Queens Creek Bridge in York County.
Hicks, who lives in Williamsburg, drove past the scene of the crash around 8:10 a.m.
“I remember thinking how odd it was that the interstate was so empty that morning,” Hicks said. “It was a welcome change to the otherwise normal delays due to construction.”
He said he noticed a line of ambulances and reduced his speed just before two cars crashed in front of him. The chain-reaction crashes eventually spanned the westbound and eastbound lanes, closing the interstate for hours.
Hicks said it wasn’t immediately clear to him what caused the cars to collide until he drove onto the bridge and felt the backend of his car losing traction and beginning to slide because of the ice. Just as he regained control of his car to avoid the collision in front of him, he noticed a vehicle in his rearview mirror that he said appeared to be sliding sideways toward his car.
“I knew I had to keep moving, otherwise I was going to be struck,” Hicks said. “I tried to give my car enough gas to safely move out of the way, but I was bracing for the impact.”
Hicks said conditions were foggy but that the fog had lifted enough by the time that he drove over the bridge that he had more time to react than some of the drivers who crashed earlier in the day.
In a news conference Sunday, Anaya confirmed that fog and icy roads contributed to the crash but that the cause is still under investigation. No charges have been announced.
“I really don’t know what caused it but it was pure (vehicle) carnage. I’ve been towing over 20 something years and it was the worst wreck I’ve ever seen,” said David Harvell, a lead driver for Finks Inc. Towing, based in Portsmouth.
The majority of the crashes occurred on the bridge, which has not been narrowed at all for construction, Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Brittany McBride Nichols said Monday afternoon in an email.
She acknowledged that while the work zone may pose “some inconvenience” to crash site access, VDOT and first responder agencies worked together to plan and prepare for situations like Sunday. She said the response to the incident was a “true testament” to the partnerships they’ve formed.
VDOT detoured traffic using the Route 199 exit before the crash site, and all traffic between the detour and the crash site was re-routed across the median into the eastbound lanes to clear a path for first responders, Nichols said.
The crash did not cause any known damage to the existing Queens Creek bridges, Nichols said. The existing bridges were already set to be demolished and replaced with newer, wider bridges as a part of the Segment III of the widening project.