Chaos follows when winter storm turns I-15 into sheet of ice Sunday, trapping motorists for hours

A semitractor-trailer jackknifes on northbound I-15 near mile marker 23 due to ice on the roadway that triggered multiple slide-offs, Virgin River Gorge, Arizona, Feb. 17, 2019 | Photo courtesy of the Arizona Highway Patrol, St. George News

ST. GEORGE A sheet of ice on Interstate 15 set a slippery stage for a semitractor-trailer to jackknife, triggered multiple slide-offs and crashes, and trapped motorists for nearly four hours as both northbound lanes through the Virgin River Gorge were shut down during a severe storm Sunday night.

Ice and snow cover Interstate 15 near mile marker 23 which traps motorists and causes multiple slide-offs, Virgin River Gorge, Arizona, Feb. 17, 2019 | Photo courtesy of the Arizona Highway Patrol, St. George News

The first incident was reported at 6:30 p.m. when a vehicle spun out on northbound I-15 near mile post 21 and from there the road became covered with ice through mile post 24, Arizona Highway Patrol Trooper Stephen Hughes said.

“I rolled up on that first spinout and right from there the road just froze with more than a half an inch of ice for a three-mile stretch,” Hughes said.

After the first vehicle went off of the road there were a number of slide-offs due to the uphill grade combined with the roadway that is slanted toward the median,” Hughes said.

“Once that first one was reported there were vehicles sliding all over out there.”

Meanwhile, a semitractor-trailer was able to make it around several disabled vehicles before the truck began sliding backward and jackknifed, which blocked the right lane.

Read more: Winter storm wreaks havoc on Southern Utah highways, leading to multiple crashes, rollovers

It took some time for troopers to make it from the initial scene at mile marker 21 to where the semi jackknifed at 23, Hughes said, because traffic was completely blocked until he “made a path through all of the stopped vehicles to reach the disabled truck.”

“It was initially reported as a rollover and it was only after we reached mile marker 23 that we realized the truck had jackknifed,” he said.

Even with the left lane still open for travel, traffic came to a stop as motorists were unable to go around the semi without sliding backward into the disabled truck because ice on the uphill grade.

Traffic on the southbound side of the interstate was backed up for more than four miles with motorists driving “very slowly to keep from sliding on the ice,” Hughes said.

At about 10:30 p.m. snowplows arrived to scrape the roads while dumping loads of sand. The backed-up traffic trapped by the ice began to clear, including the semi that was able to pull out of the jackknife. Within about an hour traffic in both directions was moving normally along I-15.

“Once the guys on the snowplows showed up we were able to get everyone moving and out of there pretty quick,” Hughes said.

Overall, on the northbound side there were two crashes reported during the four-hour incident that injured two occupants who were treated at the hospital and then released, Hughes said, while the rest were slide-offs and vehicles unable to continue due to the ice.

No crashes or slide-offs were reported on the southbound side.

This report is based on statements from police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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