A Lincoln County woman and a Duke University student were among three people killed in a 95-vehicle crash Sunday afternoon on Interstate 77, Virginia State Police officials said Monday night.
Authorities identified the victims of the crash as Kathern Worley, 71, of Iron Station; Andrew Katbi, 24, of Delphos, Ohio; and William Sosebee, 33, of Allen, Ky.
Katbi was enrolled in the Duke University Law School, according to the school’s website, which said he was returning from a camping trip when he was caught up in the massive wreck on southbound I-77, just north of the North Carolina-Virginia border.
Troopers said Monday evening that Worley was a passenger in a vehicle that hit a tractor-trailer. Sosebee was a passenger in another vehicle that hit the same truck. Katbi was the driver of another vehicle in the wreck.
Virginia State Police officials said Monday their investigation determined there were 17 separate multi-vehicle collisions along 1 1/2 miles of southbound I-77 – at least the fifth fog-related multi-vehicle crash on that part of I-77 in the past 16 years on Fancy Gap Mountain.
A spokesman for the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office said Monday morning that a number of motorists spent the night at an American Red Cross shelter at the Hillsville VFW Hall because their vehicles were damaged or destroyed in the wreck. At one point Sunday evening, about two dozen people were at the shelter.
Traffic was stopped on southbound I-77 for about 16 hours and on the northbound side – which was used by ambulances and wrecker trucks – for about 11 hours.
“This mountain is notorious for fog banks,” Glen Sage, of the American Red Cross office in Galax, Va., told the Associated Press. “They have advance signs warning people. But the problem is, people are seeing well – and suddenly they’re in a fog bank.”
State police say the chain reaction started somewhere near mile marker 6, and it involved six cars and a tractor-trailer. After that, vehicles kept plowing into one another as they drove down the steep incline – some of them at speeds of 60 to 70 mph.
Those motorists, headed toward the North Carolina border on a busy holiday travel weekend, went from relatively good weather to dense fog, with a visibility of about 100 feet, in a matter of seconds.
They were the same sort of conditions blamed for fatal multi-vehicle crashes in the area in May 2001 and November 2010. Each of those incidents took place near mile markers 6 and 7.
Interstate 77 drops 1,289 feet over a 6.2-mile stretch, and there are three emergency ramps on the southbound side for truckers and other motorists whose brakes fail. The grade exceeds 5 percent in places.
UNC Charlotte student Justin Engel told WCNC-TV, the Observer’s news partner, that he was southbound on I-77 when he came upon the wreck, and stopped just in time.
“We couldn’t see anything because of the fog,” Engel told WCNC. “The fog was the most dense I’ve ever seen.”
Engel told WCNC a man in a red-hooded sweatshirt flagged him down before he hit vehicles in front of him.
One motorist told the Roanoke Times she saw a woman getting out of a wrecked car – just as a tractor-trailer slammed into it. The motorist said that when she left the scene a short time later, the woman was still lying on the roadway, motionless.
The Virginia State Police quickly closed southbound I-77 from mile marker 14 to the state line. A short time later, they closed the northbound side so it could be used by emergency crews.
A number of fires broke out in the crushed vehicles. Injured motorists were taken to Twin County Regional Hospital in Galax, Va.; Northern Hospital in Mount Airy; and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem.
School buses were used to take stranded motorists to emergency shelters.
Nina Rose, 20, of Rochester, N.Y., told the Associated Press she was driving home on northbound I-77 when she encountered the wreck on the other side of the road.
“With so much fog, we didn’t see much,” Rose said. “As we got further up, we just saw a bunch of people standing on the median – just with their kids and families, all together. There were cars smashed into other cars, and cars just underneath other semi trucks.” The Associated Press and Roanoke Times contributed.
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