At least 6 dead in 133-car pile-up

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65 people were being treated at area hospitals for injuries related to the crash as of Thursday afternoon.

Mass casualty wreck on I-35W and Northside Drive in Fort Worth, Texas on Thursday, February 11, 2021.
Mass casualty wreck on I-35W and Northside Drive in Fort Worth, Texas on Thursday, February 11, 2021.(Lawrence Jenkins / Special Contributor)

By Catherine MarfinJesus JimenezNataly Keomoungkhoun and Charles Scudder

Ice was causing serious traffic accidents across Dallas-Fort Worth early Thursday, with several fatalities reported as rescue crews continued to assist at multiple accident scenes on area roads.

On Interstate 35-West north of downtown Fort Worth, 133 vehicles were involved in a pile-up that was likely caused by icy roads, officials said. 

At least six people had died as a result of the pile-up, officials said. The victims’ identities will be released after families have been notified of their deaths.

The Fort Worth 911 center received an automobile accident call shortly after 6 a.m. in the southbound TEXPress lanes of I-35W, Fort Worth Fire Chief Jim Davis said at a press conference Thursday afternoon. The two toll lanes are located within two concrete barrier walls.

When emergency vehicles arrived, the accident was still developing, Davis said. Over the course of several hours, there were 26 Fire Department emergency vehicles, 80 police cars and 13 ambulances on the scene, officials said.

The crash in its entirety spanned a half-mile between northeast 28th Street and Northside Drive, officials said.

A video posted on Twitter by North Texas storm chaser Jason McLaughlin showed dozens of vehicles piled up in Fort Worth. Several vehicles were crushed in the pileup, and at least three tractor-trailers were involved.

One vehicle appeared to be pinned under a large pickup, and another badly damaged vehicle appeared to have been stuck beneath an 18-wheeler. McLaughlin estimated that more than 100 vehicles were involved in the pileup.

“It’s still chaos,” McLaughlin said on The Weather Channel. “It looks like a couple of vehicles lost control and when that happened, everything just piled up behind them.

All northbound lanes of I-35W, including toll lanes, were closed, with traffic backed up in both directions from I-30 to I-820, Fort Worth police said.

By about 10:30 a.m., Fort Worth Fire Department spokesman Michael Drivdahl said most people involved in the pile-up had been rescued or removed from their vehicles, but many vehicles would need to be removed off the highway.

“We are going to have to go through and search vehicle by vehicle,” Drivdahl said.

After the search was complete, the Fire Department turned over the scene to Fort Worth police to allow them to conduct their investigation and to recover those who could not be rescued or those who died at the scene, Davis said.

A total of 65 people were being treated at area hospitals for injuries related to the crash as of Thursday afternoon, said MedStar spokesman Matt Zavadsky. None of the people involved in the crash were pediatric patients.

Zavadsky said first responders responding to the scene were able to see and treat numerous people within the first hour to hour-and-a-half.

Because of the nature of the accidents and the number of vehicles involved, Zavadsky said the process of untangling the cars will take multiple days.

“This is the beginning of what’s likely to be a very long weather weekend for us here in North Texas, and it is really important that people not go out and drive if they don’t have to,” he said. “That will help with the car crash scenario; it will also help with hypothermia calls and keep everybody safe.”

Zavadsky said a large number of people who were involved in the accident were healthcare workers wearing scrubs and hospital badges.

“Typically shift change for the hospitals and places downtown are going to be 7 o’clock,” he said. “So we did see a lot of people that were healthcare workers that were a part of this crash.”

Four of the people who were taken to the hospital were Fort Worth police officers, said Fort Worth Police Chief Neil Noakes. Three were on their way to work and one was injured while working on the scene. All four were treated and released from the hospital.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price offered her condolences at a press conference Thursday to those who were affected by the crash.

“This is an incredibly difficult day for the city of Fort Worth,” Price said. “My heart is broken for this community as we deal with the tragic loss of so many lives and so many injuries and a scene like none of us ever seen before.”

Price said the city will continue sanding its own streets, but highways and toll roads are left up to the discretion of the agency.

The department asked people involved in minor accidents with no injuries to exchange information and move on without calling the police, who were already overworked on major accidents.

Texas State Representative Ramon Romero and Texas State Senator Beverly Powell took to Twitter Thursday afternoon after hearing reports that the roads the crash had occurred on had not been salted nor sanded leading up to pile up.

“My office is asking many questions and demanding answers,” Romero said. “We have already had multiple discussions about this tollway’s bottleneck design and lack of commonsense safety measures such as a shoulder.”

Romero and Powell said their offices were investigating and asking the Texas Department of Transportation about the allegations.

“This tragedy deserves an immediate and thorough investigation,” Romero tweeted. “This inclement weather was foreseeable and lives were lost because a private company didn’t uphold its end of the deal.”

TxDOT did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Robert Hinkle, a spokesman for the North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners, said in a statement that the company was actively working to keep ice off the roads.

“NTE & NTE35W maintenance crews started pre-treating our corridors on Tuesday and have been spot treating since then,” Hinkle said. “Our crews are now assisting emergency responders to manage the accident scene on 35W, and will continue treating the highways through the weekend and into next week.”

Noakes said the police department will be investigating the allegations.

The Fort Worth Fire Department tweeted photos of firefighters cleaning up the wreckage. Several vehicles, including trucks and 18-wheelers, were piled on top of one another. In one photo, a dog was being passed from one firefighter to another.

The scene, which was still active as of Thursday afternoon, had been split up into sectors for extrication, treatment and transportation, Davis said. Fort Worth Police Department set up a family reunification location at a nearby community center for drivers and passengers who need to be picked up.

In an update to media at the reunification location, Fort Worth police officer Jimmy Pollozani said first responders were doing everything they could to accommodate those affect by the pile-up, adding that he personally drove someone who was stranded to work at the veteran affair’s office.

“This is a very traumatic event for everyone involved from the first responders to the people in the wreck to the survivors,” Pollozani said. “All we ask is that all of the city of Fort Worth to come together and pray for these families during such a traumatic event.”

About 30 to 40 people had been transported to the location by 10:30 a.m., according to the fire department. Pollozani said counselors and chaplains were at the reunification location to comfort families.

The Fort Worth Office of Emergency Management said in a tweet that people looking for family members who may have been involved in the crash can contact the reunification center at 1-817-546-7826 for more information.

North Texas authorities report multitude of crashes

Authorities areawide reported numerous crashes overnight, with some involving serious injuries and damage to city vehicles.

In Dallas, at least one person died in a crash about 11:15 p.m. on southbound Interstate 45 at Lamar Street, police said. About 1 a.m., two more people were killed and a third was critically injured in a crash along I-45 at Illinois Avenue.

Between midnight and 6 a.m., MedStar had been called to 19 multiple-vehicle crashes, Zavadsky said. The department said it responded to six crashes during a 90-minute period starting at 4:30 a.m. Thursday.

In a tweet, MedStar said the roads were “treacherous” and that North Texans should avoid the roads if possible.

In Arlington, police at one point said they were handling 23 crashes, most of which were on highways. At 7 a.m., Chief Al Jones said in a tweet that his department had responded to 82 crashes since 10 p.m. Wednesday, the majority of which occurred on bridges, overpasses and major highways.

At one point, while an Arlington officer was responding to a crash in the 6500 block of Interstate-20 West, a driver crashed into their squad car, Jones said. The officer was out of the car during the accident and was not injured, but the other person’s car was not drivable after the crash, he said.

In Garland, police had responded to 13 major accidents and 54 minor accidents by 10 a.m., the department said in a tweet.

Between midnight and 7 a.m., police in Irving responded to 31 accidents. Eighteen accidents were waiting for police to be free to respond at 7 a.m., Police Chief Jeff Spivey said in a tweet. By 9:30 a.m., the department was working 14 accidents simultaneously.

Two people were taken to the hospital just after 7 a.m. as a result of a 14-car wreck at State Highway 114 and Spur 348, the Irving Fire Department said. The department did not say what condition the patients were transported in.

Authorities in Plano, Carrollton, and Frisco also warned of slick roads and unsafe travel conditions.

Airport delays

DFW International Airport, American Airlines’ primary hub, was a major source of delays and cancellations in the country’s air travel system.

There were 20 cancellations by mid-afternoon, but more than 178 delays due to the icy conditions paired with runway construction, according to airplane tracking website Flightaware.com That accounted for delays on about 22% of departing flights. Dallas Love Field, home to Southwest Airlines, had 7 cancellations, and 19 delays, roughly 7% of flights.

DFW Airport CEO Sean Donohue said crew spent the night “pre-treating” the runways and taxiways at the airport in addition to roads, with particular attention to bridges which freeze quicker than surface roads.

Ongoing road closures

Crashes continue to affect several areas, largely major highways, throughout North Texas.

Arlington: The ramp from eastbound Interstate Highway 30 to southbound State Highway 369 was closed just before 9 a.m., police said.

Garland: Eastbound I-30 from Broadway to the President George Bush Turnpike was shut down at 8 a.m. Southbound LBJ Freeway was also closed because of an 18-wheeler in the roadway, police said.

Grand Prairie: The bridges on Interstate 20 at Robinson Road and Carrier Parkway were iced over as of 10:40 a.m., police said. Traffic in the area was reduced to one lane and was at one point backed up into Arlington, police said.

At noon, the department was also working a crash involving an 18-wheeler at U.S. 287 and FM 661 in south Grand Prairie, between Mansfield and Midlothian. There were no injuries, the department said. As of 12 p.m., one lane was open but police said it would soon be shut down to make space so officials could set the 18-wheeler upright.

Grapevine: Police said State Highway 360 was a “problem area” Thursday morning for wrecks. Overpasses and bridges were also proving dangerous to drive on, the department said.

In Rockwall County, officials said ice was forming on roads by 9:40 p.m. Wednesday, and temperatures across North Texas are expected to remain at or below freezing for much of Thursday.

“Any improvement to icy patches will be slow-going,” said Matt Stalley, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

Although the bulk of icy conditions were on bridges and overpasses, there was enough freezing rain overnight to affect main roads as well, KXAS-TV (NBC5) meteorologist Grant Johnston said.

“Just take it easy and take it slow,” he said.

This image from the Texas Department of Transportation shows the scene on I-35W early Thursday.
This image from the Texas Department of Transportation shows the scene on I-35W early Thursday.(TxDot)

COVID-19 vaccine hub closures

Several COVID-19 vaccination sites closed or delayed operations Thursday due to the inclement weather.

Dallas County: Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a tweet Thursday morning that operations at the county’s Fair Park site were cancelled for the day. It’s not clear when the center will reopen.

The county health department said in a tweet that patients scheduled for their second shot Thursday would be accommodated, but did not detail when or how that would occur.

Dallas County offices were also closed for the day.

Tarrant County: As of 9 p.m. Wednesday, Tarrant County Public Health said its vaccine clinics would be open Thursday and Friday. The county said COVID-19 testing sites would be closed Thursday and reopen Friday.

Denton County: Vaccination appointments set for Thursday will be rescheduled for Friday afternoon, the county said. The shots will be administered at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

Collin County: Thursday’s appointments at Plano’s John Clark Stadium are being rescheduled, the county said. Patients affected are being contact by Curative Medical Associates. Collin County government offices are also closed Thursday.

Parkland Health & Hospital System: The health provider said the vaccination sites at Ellis Davis Field House and Eastfield Community College in Mesquite will be closed Thursday through Monday. Those with appointments for these locations should go to Parkland Memorial Hospital at their scheduled time, and those who cannot make it will be contacted by Parkland.

Testing sites at Sam Tasby Middle School in Dallas, Irving Health Center and West Dallas Multipurpose Center will be closed Thursday through Monday, Parkland said.

Although North Texas is likely to get a break from wintry precipitation late Thursday into Saturday, the region is set for another round by Sunday, Johnston said. Dallas-Fort Worth could get a round of snow late Sunday into Monday, and highs are not expected to get out of the 20s those days.

Ahead of the weekend, the National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch for all of North Texas, including Dallas, Denton, Collin and Tarrant counties. The watch is in effect from late Saturday through Monday afternoon.

“Travel will become nearly impossible and could become life threatening,” the Weather Service cautioned in its winter storm watch, adding that “near blizzard conditions” are possible with heavy blowing snow.

How much snow the area could face remains unclear, though some forecast models point to accumulations of 3 to 7 inches, with greater totals farther north, according to the Weather Service.

“Some areas could receive significantly more while others significantly less, and it’s still too soon to pinpoint these details,” Stalley said in a forecast update. “Significant travel impacts would result from such a storm, especially if models begin to trend toward the higher snow totals.”

Although snowfall totals are uncertain, the cold is not. Stalley warned that by Monday the North Texas area could see some of the coldest weather it has had in more than 30 years.

With lows forecast to dip into the teens or single digits, wind chill values could dip below zero, according to the Weather Service.

The last time Dallas-Fort Worth recorded single-digit weather was on Dec. 22, 1989, when the mercury dipped to 3 degrees.

“The next week will be full of weather hazards, and folks are urged to make plans to protect themselves and those vulnerable to extreme cold,” Stalley said. “Cover any exposed pipes, ensure your pets are indoors, and any other outdoor animals have adequate shelter.”

Staff writer Kyle Arnold contributed to this report. dallasnews

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