Snow leads to bang-up day on local roads

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF

   It was a bang-up day Monday on the icy, snow-covered roads of Carter County, with 24 accident calls dispatched through the 911 Emergency Communications District.
   "We've had accidents just about anywhere you want to say," said Carter County Sheriff John Henson. He attributed the pile-ups to the first measurable snow of winter.
   "People have not really got into driving on slick roads yet and it's just caused a rash of accidents all over the county. A lot of them were on the north end of the county in Roan Mountain, Elk Mills, and up in that section around the lake -- but we've also had several accidents down in the lower end today and usually you don't have that many down here because there's not that much snow. But we have been swamped with fender-benders. No major injuries, so far, thank goodness," he said Monday afternoon.
   "The side roads are extremely hazardous and slick. My advice is, if you have to travel these roads, use snow tires and chains or 4-wheel drives on all side county roads.
   "Our real problem was it froze and the ice underneath the snow is what makes it so slick."
   Sheriff Henson advised drivers to keep speed down and vehicles under control. With 4-wheel drives, "Going uphill, you can do pretty good because you've got all four wheels pulling. But when you start down a hill, all four wheels will slide also. Just because it's a 4-wheel drive don't mean it won't slide off the road with you."
   Henson said the county usually is kept fairly busy with the first snow or two. "You have a lot of accidents until people get back into the groove."
   Sgt. Keith Range will get a three-day vacation following an injury sustained Monday while working a wreck on Charity Hill Road. Range said he "slipped on the ice and like to have broke my arm." He was treated at Sycamore Shoals Hospital.
   Elk Mills Volunteer Fire Department's fire engine became the county's first victim of an uninsured motorist since the state's mandatory insurance law went into effect Jan. 1. According to Eddie Clawson, fire chief for Elk Mills, a Rush Oil tanker from Mountain City had started up Poga Road when it overturned. "It was real slick and he was trying to back off and just turned over."
   Clawson said the fire department was standing by at a house under the hill from where the tanker overturned when another vehicle ran off the roadway and crashed into the side of the fire truck.
   "I was sitting about 40 feet off the road and a car came off the road, down the embankment, and hit the fire truck. It messed up the right rear corner of it," he said. "They didn't have a license or anything else."
   Thomas A. Bugg, 40, 387 Tiger Creek Road, Roan Mountain, driver of the vehicle, was arrested by Deputy Michael Carlock and charged with second-offense driving on revoked license and violation of the financial responsibility law.
   Jim Burrough, director of Carter County Emergency Management, said the tanker, which was delivering home heating oil, "went off the bank probably about 20 to 25 feet backwards -- straight off -- and almost hit a mobile home. It landed on its side and didn't spill a drop."
   The car which then went over the embankment "came through the trees and never hit a tree -- then hit the fire truck," Burrough said.
   As he was leaving the scene and heading back toward Elizabethton, Burrough said he encountered another accident on U.S. Highway 321 in which the car "flipped upside down" with only minor injuries to the occupants.
   Secondary roads in the Watauga Lake and Elk Mills areas are hazardous, according to Clawson. "I've never seen such a mess in the county."
   David Nichols, president of Carter County Fire Association, said Monday's accident didn't put the Elk Mills' fire truck out of service, "but it did damage it moderately."
   While he had no estimate available regarding repairs, Nichols said, "The main thing about a fire truck being damaged is not what it cost to have it repaired, it's how long do you have to do without it."
   The 1996 Freightliner/3-D fire engine, which cost around $130,000 and isn't paid off yet, will be out of service when the repairs are made.
   "It breaks your heart -- especially when you're sitting way off the road," Nichols said.
   Carter County Rescue Squad reported no problems negotiating the icy roads. "On known slick areas a 4-wheel drive vehicle went with the ambulance," said Nichols, who is also deputy director of Carter County EMS.
   Elizabethton Police Department had worked 10 accidents by late afternoon, only one of which resulted in injury.
   Jenny E. Bailey, 1138 Hwy. 91, a mail carrier, was driving a 1969 American KA-1 red utility vehicle and traveling south on Siam Road when a juvenile driver lost control of his vehicle near East Side School and struck the mail truck on the left side. The mail vehicle left the roadway, traveled through the grass, and came to rest nose first in Doe River, where it began leaking gasoline. HEPACO environmental service was called in to contain and clean up the spill.
   Ptl. Michael Merritt charged the mail carrier for violation of the financial responsibility law and the juvenile with driving left of center.