By Brenda Flanagan
Multiple eyewitnesses to a deadly 40-car pileup called the Turnpike there a “sheet of ice, like a skating rink” with little apparent evidence of salt and allegedly no salt trucks in sight until after the accident.
Steve Koch said, “An hour into sitting inside the scene, nine ton trucks of salt were dumping onto the ice, but that was just so the interior cars on scene had traction to get out; this had no effect on any ice-melting process. It was like throwing marbles across a skating rink.”
“It was dangerous, but it didn’t look it,” said Paul Silverthorn.
One trucker describes the treacherous Turnpike driving that day: “It looked clear, but there was a sheet of ice that covered everything.”
And now, this: a former Turnpike maintenance director claims this accident could’ve been avoided if the Turnpike Authority had salted the road more frequently and also says the Authority didn’t have enough additional salt spreaders to cover its newly-expanded highway, which added 170 extra miles of blacktop to salt and plow. Dan McNamara told NJ Advance Media contractors hired by the Authority couldn’t keep up.
“That’s baloney,” says Turnpike Spokesman Tom Feeney. “The Turnpike Authority has about 200 spreaders on the Turnpike. Those are vehicles owned by the Turnpike Authority.” He emphasized, the effort Monday “…was fully staffed, fully equipped and deployed all day long until well after the time of the accident.”
“Certainly the allegations are troubling,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski.
Wisniewski heads the Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee. Today he sent a letter to Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox asking for an investigation.
“The agency that runs that roadway has an obligation to make sure that they respond to weather conditions appropriately. Clearly, something didn’t go well,” Wisniewski said.
In fact, after the accident occurred, Fox ordered a complete review of Turnpike plowing, salting and other winter operations — with a 30-day turnaround. State Police reported icy road conditions contributed to the accident, which killed 52-year-old Darryl Williams of Bordentown, and sent dozens to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
“We need to assure the motoring public that next time there’s a weather condition, they can have every confidence all steps have been taken to make sure the roadway is safe and most importantly that the Turnpike and the State of New Jersey learns from this experience. It’s a tragedy what happened. It would be a greater tragedy if we didn’t learn from it,” said Wisniewski.
The Turnpike Authority says it’ll have no further comment until its investigation is complete but added uninformed critique will not be helpful.