Heavy Snowstorm Leads To Fatal Vehicle Pileup

ERIE, Pa. (AP) - A heavy snowstorm along Lake Erie led to a series of chain-reaction crashes Wednesday involving more than 100 cars and tractor-trailers, killing at least one, officials said.

One person was declared dead at the scene. As many as five people were in serious or critical condition and 20 to 30 people were taken to area hospitals, by Erie County Coroner Lyell Cook.

Snow and ice-covered roads were reported around 1 p.m. as the first series of accidents were reported in Erie County near the Ohio line, state police said.

"It is snowing, blowing, the roads are ice covered," said Dick Schau, a spokesman for EmergyCare, an Erie ambulance service which responded to the pile-up. "There is poor visibility and you can't see in front of you."

The first collision occurred around 1 p.m., state police said.

"We have upwards of 10 to perhaps more than 20 multiple vehicle accidents spread over a five-mile stretch," said Cpl. Mark Zaleski of the Erie State Police.

There was one accident involving at least 20 cars and numerous "smaller cluster accidents" involving two or more vehicles or single vehicles leaving the roadway, Zaleski said.

Troopers responding to one accident were finding other multi-car crashes about every 150 yards along the way, Zaleski said.

Among the injured were four children who were expected to be treated and released, said Sue White, a spokeswoman for St. Vincent Hospital. Tina Andres, a spokeswoman for Hamot Medical Center, said a nurse was routing people to various hospitals based on paramedics calls to the county's emergency operations center.

Rich Foltz, 52, of suburban Pittsburgh, was driving east on the interstate, and told Pittsburgh radio station KQV collisions became unavoidable.

"Two trailer trucks were in front of us taking up both lanes, as they applied their brakes they started sliding in towards the cars that were already in the accident," Foltz said. "And at that point everybody behind them, which was fairly heavy traffic at the time, started going into each other and there literally was no stopping. It was just like driving on ice."

Foltz said he avoided one car but was then rear-ended by a tow truck.

A five-mile stretch of I-90 remained closed in both directions between Interstate 79 and Route 8 late Wednesday afternoon.

State police were urging motorists to delay travel through the area or find an alternate route.

The region is known for severe lake-effect snow and icy conditions.

Witnesses reported high winds accompanying snow around the time the collisions began.

Emergency crews were slowed in their response because of the bad conditions, Zaleski said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)