Accidents pile up during sudden snow squall; three-car crash closes Orrington road  

Posted March 02, 2011, at 6:06 p.m.
Last modified March 03, 2011, at 12:05 a.m.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — A quick-moving snow squall that brought whiteout conditions in parts of Maine on Wednesday afternoon caught many motorists off guard, but the storm had been forecast by the National Weather Service in Caribou.

Lead forecaster Victor Nouhan said the squall was ahead of an arctic cold front that will blanket the state into Thursday night.

In the Dover-Foxcroft region, the skies darkened late Wednesday afternoon and whiteout conditions prevailed for about a half-hour before the sun briefly reappeared. Nouhan said the squall moved downstate and was expected to weaken by the time it reached Washington County around 6 p.m.

Besides poor visibility, the squall resulted in dangerous driving conditions that sent vehicles skidding off Interstate 95 and other major routes. Rollover crashes were reported and tractor-trailers jackknifed as they tried to negotiate hills, dispatchers and police in Penobscot and Hancock counties said Wednesday evening.

Hazardous driving conditions caused by the squall were cited as the cause of a three-vehicle accident on Long Hill Road in Orrington that resulted in only minor injuries.

“They were very, very lucky,” Deputy Chad Young of the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department said late Wednesday night.

The accident happened about 6 p.m. while Dale Henderson, 58, of Orrington was attempting to pull his daughter Heidi Henderson’s car out of a snowbank.

Heidi Henderson and her three children, ages 2, 10 and 13, were in her 2002 Lincoln LS sedan and Dale Henderson and a relative, who came along to help and whose name was not immediately available, were outside of Henderson’s 2007 GMC Sierra pickup when Heidi Henderson’s car was struck by a plow truck driven by James Watson, 44, of Orrington, Young said.

Young said the brakes on the plow truck, a 2004 GMC Sierra pickup owned by Pine Tree Landscaping, locked up as Watson was driving down Long Hill, causing the plow truck to strike the Lincoln’s front end, spinning it and then striking its back end, causing it to slide downhill into Henderson’s truck.

Henderson’s truck then struck Henderson, pushing him over a guardrail and into a snowbank, Young said. The relative avoided being struck by running across the road, he said.

Dale Henderson, Heidi Henderson and the three Henderson children suffered bumps and bruises. They were examined at the scene by emergency medical personnel but declined to go to the hospital, Young said.

Watkins and his 11-year-old son, who was a passenger in the plow truck, weren’t injured.

Shortly after the accident, a verbal altercation broke out between Henderson and Watkins. Henderson accused Watkins of driving too fast for road conditions. Two witnesses, however, told police that Watson was driving 30 to 35 mph, under the posted speed limit of 45 mph, Young said.

Because of the slick road conditions and the accident, Long Hill Road was closed for about an hour and a half, Young said. The road reopened after damaged vehicles were removed and the road was salted and sanded, he said.

The accident remained under investigation late Wednesday night.

In Bangor, police received reports of 29 accidents, one of them resulting in minor injury, during a two-hour period starting at 4 p.m., police Sgt. Brad Johnston said Wednesday night.

Brewer police also dealt with a slew of weather-related traffic problems, Brewer police Sgt. Dave Lord said. These included at least three tractor-trailers unable to climb hills, an accident or two and several vehicles that slid off the roadway.

Despite the large number of accidents, none appeared to have resulted in serious or life-threatening injury.

Traffic on Route 1A came to virtual halt for about an hour Wednesday evening after a section of highway at McGowan’s Hill was shut down for an hour while road maintenance crews were called in to apply salt.

Much of the squall developed over northwestern Maine, where the daytime heat made the lower atmosphere unstable, according to Nouhan.

The squall will be followed by a significantly colder period than that which followed the last snowstorm, Nouhan predicted.

‘’For some places, it may be the coldest air mass of the season, especially Thursday night,’’ he said.

Nouhan said some areas may experience their lowest temperature of the winter season. While that’s not unheard of in early March, it seldom happens, he said, since the coldest periods usually occur in January or February.

BDN writer Dawn Gagnon contributed to this report.

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