ERIE COUNTY, Ohio — Video taken Sunday by a truck driver traveling on the Ohio Turnpike in Erie County shows a rainbow of slush and snow crossing the median due to a snowplow, causing several vehicles to swerve and one to drive off the road.
Around 1:46 p.m., the Ohio State Highway Patrol received reports of the incident and responded to the eastbound lanes of the Ohio Turnpike between state Route 4 and state Route 250, according to Sgt. Ray Santiago. Troopers on scene discovered the snowplow had been traveling westbound in the inside lane and caused snow and ice debris to be thrown into the eastbound lanes, striking passing vehicles.
There were at least 40 vehicles involved and 12 known injuries, troopers said.
Michael Lemon was traveling on the Ohio Turnpike near milepost 114 when his video captured the shocking moment.
Wild video along Ohio Turnpike south of Sandusky.... Driver says several vehicles damaged. Turnpike spokesperson says "We are aware of the incident [and] are conducting investigations. Appropriate action will be taken pending the outcome of these investigations.” pic.twitter.com/jIm45f7x5X— Clay LePard (@ClayLePard) January 24, 2022
"I've never seen anything like that," Lemon said. "I didn't know how to react, I was just dumbfounded that somebody could be so reckless."
The Ohio Turnpike is managed by an independent company, not the Ohio Department of Transportation, and one of the plow trucks employed by the highway was seen on the video traveling the same speed as surrounding cars, around 70 mph, as it cleared snow from the road.
Because the snowplow was traveling at such a high speed, the snow was thrown to the other side of the highway, landing on cars driving in the opposite direction.
Phil Ward captured the moment when a semi was hit with slush and veered off the road. Thankfully for Ward, his truck didn't end up with any damage.
"Luckily, the only thing I got out of that was a real good window washing," he said.
"As soon as it happened, we all thought we got into a car accident because that’s how bad the force was," Marisa Scipione said.
Scipione was on her way home from a weekend with friends in Michigan when her group got caught in the slush. Scipione told News 5 the slush damaged one car's axle to the point where it was no longer driveable.
"Those videos don’t even show the intensity of what we went through," she added. "We have never experienced anything like that. It was the scariest thing. When it hit us, everybody slammed on the brake, you couldn’t see out of any windows and everything was covered."
Lemon said he pulled over and talked to victims of the crash, some who had arm and shoulder injuries, others who had "blood all over their faces."
The incident damaged Lemon's truck as well.
"I had to go up 30 miles and turn around to find the Ohio State Highway Patrol because I didn't realize there was any damage to my vehicle until I went to change lanes afterwards," Lemon said. 'It literally blew out the entire headlight out of the hood of the car no longer attached to the truck."
Now, drivers are turning to the turnpike and looking for answers as to how they’re supposed to repair their cars and why this happened in the first place.
“We’re paying to be on that road,” Vince Orlandi, whose driver-side door no longer opens due to a dent, said. “They created a super dangerous, potentially fatal situation."
"The roads are dangerous, even the professionals make mistakes and then some of them are just flat out reckless, he should not have been plowing at 70 miles an hour," Lemon said.
Jerry Green was driving from Washington to Lordstown when he saw the whole situation unfold.
“What are you thinking?” he asked of the plow truck driver. “What’s going through your mind that you think that's okay to do?”
On Monday morning, the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission issued the following statement in response to the video:
The Ohio State Patrol, Ohio Turnpike Maintenance, and disabled vehicle service companies, Interstate Towing and Madison Motor Service, assisted in removing the vehicles from the turnpike. We took the affected customers to the Patrol Post in Milan, as well as a local restaurant and hotel. We are working with the customers affected by this incident. The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission and Ohio State Highway Patrol are conducting investigations, and appropriate action will be taken pending the outcome of these investigations.
In addition, a spokesperson with the Ohio Turnpike confirmed the employee driving the snowplow truck was placed on administrative leave and was sent for mandatory drug and alcohol testing. An OSHP spokesperson said the driver was not injured and is cooperating with investigators.
In a statement released later in the day Monday, the Ohio Turnpike stated that in general, snowplow operators are Maintenance Worker Class II Roadway employees. The hiring of these employees includes: "a thorough review of related skills and experience necessary for the position, such as interview, background checks (BMV, criminal and employment), pre-employment physical and drug/alcohol testing." After being hired, employees go through extensive training on snow and ice removal.
"In addition to the extensive training, our snowplow operators are provided with some of the best equipment in the industry to perform their job duties," Ohio Turnpike representatives stated. "Our track record in snow and ice operations over the past 66 years speaks for itself. The Ohio Turnpike is one of the safest highways in the nation and is especially known for our ability to meet the demands of the most severe weather events. This was an isolated incident involving a single operator and is not representative of our employees or our operations."
An Ohio Turnpike spokesperson told News 5 that by Monday afternoon, they reached out to more than 30 impacted turnpike customers and continue to urge those who have not heard from them to file a report with the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
(1/2) We are coordinating our efforts with @OSHP & contacting each customer who was affected by yesterday's snowplow incident.— Ohio Turnpike (@OhioTurnpike) January 24, 2022
Affected customers are encouraged to contact their individual insurance companies to address vehicle damage & immediate transportation needs.
Additionally, individuals wishing to file a property damage claim with the Ohio Turnpike should do so by clicking here or calling the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission at: (440) 971-2222.
OSHP said that the incident remains under investigation and potential charges are pending the review of the Erie County Prosecutor's findings.
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