Road and visibility conditions last Saturday were safe and clear — until all of a sudden motorists found themselves blinded by an unexpected blanket of heavy snow. Sudden weather changes such as this can and did have catastrophic effects on the road, leaving drivers with little time to compensate.
When whiteout conditions took those drivers on U.S. 23 by surprise around 1 p.m., the result was an approximate 30-vehicle crash that left many injured, including at least nine who were transported by ambulance to hospitals for treatment.
Grand Blanc resident Tonya Wilson now knows all too well of the dangers of whiteouts after being involved in the multi-car pileup last Saturday.
“It was very frightening. It goes from clear sky to snow, there is nothing you can do but pray,” she said. “It just seemed like it started snowing all of a sudden, and then the next thing we knew we couldn’t see at all.”
Tonya’s son Brad Wilson, 17, was behind the wheel, and four others were also in the vehicle, a Dodge Ram truck.
“As we looked up, it was just like a white out so you couldn’t see anything. So you start slowing down. When you could see, it was basically too late. I said ‘OK we are going to crash you guys, brace yourself.’ It was the most horrible thing,” Tonya said.
Tonya credited her son’s driving skills and quick reactions in helping to minimize damage to the truck — and much more importantly, the health and lives of those involved.
“We knew we were going to crash, there was no where we could go, except we were trying to not hit head on the car in front of us because it was full of kids,” Tonya said.
Wilson said that from what she saw, she didn’t think any of the vehicles in the pileup were in drivable condition afterward. She is still waiting to hear about her own vehicle, whether the truck will be drivable again or if it is totaled.
Laurie Newman was helpless when the crash occurred. She was on the phone talking to her daughter Jordan, who was in the truck along with her 11-year-old sister Elaina when the white out occurred. She said, “Brad was driving and I’m still in disbelief and so grateful that a young man of his age was capable of such heroic actions.
“His quick reaction and thinking, maneuvering skills, and unselfish actions to protect his family and mine and run to the aid of others, with his mom bring tears to my eyes.”
If whiteout conditions are forecasted, the best thing you can do is not be on the road. If you find yourself hit unexpectedly, your options are limited.
Fenton Township Fire Chief Ryan Volz that said there are not really any clear cut actions you can take if found in a white out. “I don’t know if there is any real answer to that, it’s just a dangerous spot to be in,” he said. “The worst thing you can do is stop. When you stop that’s when people hit you. You can slow down and go toward the shoulder, but anything you can do might be undone by someone else. It’s an unpredictable situation.”
Volz said that given what happened on Saturday, the outcome could have been a lot worse. “It was lucky that no one got hurt too bad.”