SEARSPORT, Maine — Tuesday’s relentless snowstorm triggered a line of accidents across the state, including a fatal five-car pileup on Route 1 in Searsport that also caused the heavily traveled road to be closed for more than four hours.
One person died after the accident and two others were taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor in critical condition, said Searsport Police Chief Richard LaHaye, who was waiting to notify next of kin before he released their names.
With the National Weather Service forecasting up to a foot of snow in some areas before the storm ends Wednesday evening, law enforcement officials warned drivers to take extra precautions, such as leaving early and driving extra slowly.
“They’re going to keep coming,” Bangor police Sgt. Paul Edwards said Tuesday referring to the accidents. In Bangor alone, 17 accidents were reported between 5 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., Lt. Jeff Millard said.
“None of them have been anything spectacular,” Millard said, indicating many were caused by cars being unable to stop in time to avoid sliding and rear-ending other vehicles.
Maine State Police troopers from Troop E, based in Orono, responded to 33 calls, Sgt. Sean Hashey said Tuesday night.
A child apparently was seriously injured when a vehicle T-boned another on Route 9 in Clifton at 12:10 p.m. Two ambulances were called to assist with at least two injuries.
“It was a serious [personal injury accident] and involved a child,” Hashey said, adding that he heard that information from another trooper who was dispatched to the scene. No other information on that accident was available Tuesday. Hashey said he wasn’t aware of any other serious accidents.
A dispatcher from the Penobscot Regional Communications Center said Tuesday night that police and emergency responders were kept busy all day, but that details were not immediately available because the computer system was down.
The fatal accident in Searsport occurred a little before 12:30 p.m. on a snow-slick road at the town line with Belfast. It involved a minivan, a Lincoln sedan and an SUV, among other vehicles.
Emergency crews from Searsport, Belfast and the state police worked to cut some of the injured out of their vehicles and get them medical care.
One of the first people to witness the accident was Tom Noble, who was working at Searsport Automotive just yards away from the crash.
“I heard a bang and turned around and saw the end of an [SUV] heading into the ditch,” he said.
Noble said that when emergency workers arrived, they had to cut a door off the Lincoln to get the driver out.
“It wasn’t very good,” Noble said.
As snow continued to drift down, flashing lights of police cars and three ambulances shone on the tangle of crashed cars. A few people gathered to watch the rescue efforts, including Karen Troth of Searsport, who feared that one of the vehicles looked all too familiar to her.
“I’m worried that a friend of mine might have been caught up in the pileup,” she said.
Three ambulances left the scene and headed in the direction of Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast.
Chief LaHaye said that an accident reconstructionist from the state police arrived later in the afternoon and that the accident remained under investigation. Route 1 was reopened to traffic around 5 p.m.
Elsewhere in Waldo County, the snowstorm caused at least nine minor traffic accidents with no injuries in Belfast, Searsport, Lincolnville, Burnham and Winterport, among other locations.
“Cars are just skidding off the road,” Chief Deputy Robert Keating of the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday. “It’s slippery out there.”
After dark, two motorists escaped injuries in separate accidents in Hancock County when their vehicles skidded off bridges.
A little after 6 p.m. in Blue Hill, one vehicle slid off Route 176, the East Blue Hill Road, at a bridge near the John Peters Inn. The driver was able to climb out of the vehicle, which came to a stop near the waters of Peters Cove.
At almost the same time in Castine, a vehicle skidded off Route 166A at a bridge near Morse Cove. Again, the vehicle came to a stop short of going into the water, and the driver was able to get out of the vehicle.
Neither driver required medical attention.
Snow will continue into Wednesday night with the heaviest snowfall across Down East areas, according to the National Weather Service’s winter storm warning.
“Amounts are expected to reach 8 to 12 inches over Down East locations where a winter storm warning has been issued,” according to the NWS Web site. “Lighter snows across central and northern areas will bring advisory level snowfall.”
The winter storm warning is in effect until 6 p.m. today.
The weather service is predicting 9.3 inches of snow for the Bangor area, 9.6 inches in Ellsworth and an average of 8.8 inches for Washington County. Around 8.2 inches should fall in the Lincoln area by Wednesday evening and in Millinocket the number should accumulate at around 6.8 inches. Up north, 2.2 inches is expected to fall in Presque Isle.