Bill Sniffin: I-80 Whiteout Nightmare – Sunday Crash Kills 3 And Hurts 30

Wyomings Interstate 80 has been a chilly highway to hell this winter. Most recently, four people were killed and 30 more injured in a colossal string of collisions near Wamsutter that started Sunday evening. This has resulted in a long closure of the major highway.

Bill Sniffin

March 04, 20204 min read

Truck wreck

By Bill Sniffin

Wyoming’s Interstate 80 has been a chilly highway to hell this winter.

Most recently, three people were killed and 30 more injured in a colossal string of collisions near Wamsutter that started Sunday evening. This has resulted in a long closure of the major highway which finally ended this morning.

Rawlins Publisher Ray Erku wrote an excellent article on the tragedy which included the following:

According to Carbon County Fire Warden Chief John Rutherford when asked to describe the carnage. “There’s really no words for it,” he said. “It’s just so unfortunate that these incidents happen, that we don’t seem to learn… we don’t seem to learn for our history. We drive on slick roads – we do that all the time – but it’s the fact that we drive too fast in rough conditions, we can’t see far enough, we don’t slow down enough that we can react to a problem to where we can get stopped or at least get off to the side of the road … and it compounds itself.”

Cowboy State Daily has been publishing a video of Sunday’s series of crashes involving dozens of huge semi-trailer trucks and a bunch of unfortunate automobiles.

According to Rutherford, the Carbon County Fire Department was called to the first crash at 3:42 p.m. on Sunday, near Creston Junction and Wamsutter. A second crash then occurred at 3:56 p.m. that day, at milepost 187. A series of crashes then took place at 4:25 p.m., at milepost 179.

Rutherford further said that assisting fire crews finally left the scene around 9:30 a.m. on Monday. Along with fire departments from Carbon and Sweetwater counties, Wyoming Highway Patrol as well as Sweetwater and Carbon County sheriff’s offices, fire departments from Wamsutter as well as Baggs were also called to assist.

On scene, first responders conducted triage efforts, where they started “cutting folks out of the vehicles.”

Rutherford was asked about the direct cause behind the massive pileup.

“My guess, talking to some of the county firemen,” Rutherford said, “poor visibility and slick roads.”

Erku’s news story continued: Following a massive pileup on Interstate 80 the city of Rawlins is currently dealing with an overflow of victims en masse.

According to Memorial Hospital of Carbon County spokesperson Stephanie Hinkle, as of early Monday afternoon 30 people have been treated in the hospital emergency room, two have been admitted and another two were scheduled for emergent surgeries, Erku reported.

“Upon arrival at the hospital, patients were initially triaged in the cafeteria due to the overflow,” Hinkle said. “Dr. Johnson, Dr. Hodde, Dr. Lumb, Dr. Rice and Dr. Abels were all on site as well as nurses from multiple departments. There were three fatalities and we have learned that one fatality occurred at the Rock Springs hospital.”

Around 3:30 p.m. on Sunday was when emergency services were called near mile markers 179 and 190, which are in close vicinity to Crescent Junction at the town of Wamsutter. Hinkle said the pileup, which involved more than 100 vehicles comprised of various tractor-trailers, trucks and cars, warranted a total of 10 ambulances, including EMT vehicles from MHCC as well as from the towns of Baggs, Wamsutter, Saratoga, Hanna, Castle Rock and Green River.

Along with ambulances, school buses from both Sweetwater and Carbon counties helped haul survivors to nearby shelters. According to Carbon County Emergency Manager Ron Brown, victims were taken to a Rawlins armory, where they were given cots, blankets and food supplies, according to. Erku’s news story in the Rawlins Times.

“We’ve got 10 folks right now as of this morning,” Brown told the Times early Monday afternoon.

Right before the local City Market grocery closed for the night on Sunday, Brown said they were contacted and immediately provided approximately 50 meals for the survivors. This includes items such as cold sandwiches, chicken, cookies, donuts, sports drinks and water, among other items. Brown also praised the efforts of the Rawlins Fire Department for bringing the items to the armory.

“They stood up to the plate and boy did they knock it out of the park,” Brown said.

Interstate 80 has been closed 54 times so far this winter and most of March and all of April and May remain. What a dangerous route this highway has become in winter conditions. 

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.