Harsh weather with low visibility cited as primary cause for two deaths, massive multi-vehicle pileup outside Sarnia

Harsh wintry weather with low visibility is being cited as the primary cause of a massive multi-vehicle pileup outside Sarnia yesterday.

The initial accident occurred in the eastbound lane of Highway 402 around or just after 10 a.m. as visibility on the road deteriorated and a chain reaction quickly ensued.

It had clearly become a breakneck haul along the roadways between Sarnia and London on Thursday as snow squalls and low visibility moved through the region. In what can only be coined as a perilous day for drivers, a string of accidents closed portions of the Highway 401/402 corridor as blowing snow reduced visibility and pavement became icy.

Multiple vehicles were involved in the pileup near Sarnia, including a marked Ontario Provincial Police cruiser, which was reportedly responding to the scene of a prior motor vehicle collision in the area.

Two people were killed and several others were taken to the hospital in the pileup east of Sarnia. The cause-and-effect crack-up is being investigated by the province’s Special Investigations Unit.

London resident Dave Revington reportedly told CBC News he was driving about 70 km/h when visibility quickly deteriorated. He said he began to slow down when he saw an ambulance, and while he was able to stop safely he was hit from behind by other cars and trucks

"People were out of their vehicles on the road and I had my window down and guys were shouting 'get out of the way, get out of here,' and guys ran into the ditch to the right and then you could hear the vehicles starting to pile up behind us," Revington is quoted as saying.

It's not clear how long the highway will be closed as the SIU and the OPP accident reconstruction team tries to figure out what happened. The OPP immediately set up a mobile command post and members of the media were asked to stay 100 meters from the crash scene.

The SIU sent five investigators, including a Collision Reconstructionist, to the scene.

Geoff Coulson, an Environment Canada meteorologist, said accumulation reached 5 to 10 centimeters across much of the area. Coulson said that blowing snow was among the biggest challenges, with the London airport reporting visibility of less than half a kilometer in early afternoon.

“Accumulation was part of the story, but it looks like the roads themselves becoming slick as the snow was falling (coupled with poor visibility) was the major concern,” Coulson is quoted as saying.

—Joe Burd, joe@lambtonshield.com

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