It was an unlucky day for South Whidbey drivers on Thursday morning and afternoon.
Icy roads, frozen over from between one to two inches of snowfall the night before, caused a half dozen accidents throughout the morning and afternoon on Feb. 22. Most were minor incidents involving cars sliding off the roadway.
School was also delayed by two hours due to the condition of the roads.
Three of the six crashes happened in the span of two hours, while South Whidbey Fire/EMS also fielded four medical calls at the same time. Only one required the driver to be hospitalized.
It was a busy day for first responders, according to South Whidbey Fire/EMS Chief Rusty Palmer. They responded to a total of 13 calls.
“We were stretched thin, but responded to all of them,” Palmer said.
It had been a hectic night and early morning for Island County’s Public Works staff on Feb. 21-22.
Bill Oakes, public works director, said his crews worked from the late afternoon on Wednesday until 1 a.m. on Thursday morning, plowing, sanding and salting “commuter and high volume roads.”
They resumed their efforts at 5 a.m. Some roads were so steep and slick that plow drivers reversed up the hills so that their vehicles could gain traction as they laid down abrasive materials.
At one point, they stopped to help a North Whidbey Fire and Rescue fire truck that was stuck on Umatilla Drive in Oak Harbor.
As much time as they spent making the roads safer, they could not tackle every single one.
Some were precarious to drive on, depending on how much sunlight it received.
“It’s Western Washington snow,” Oakes said. “It’s wet. It gets compacted, then it freezes. It gets icy.”
Oakes, however, said it was fortunate that the snowfall happened Wednesday night and not when commuters were heavily using the roads.
“It’s much worse if all the commuters are driving on compacted snow,” Oakes said.
Cultus Bay Road in Clinton was the catalyst for two crashes on Thursday, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
The morning crash involved a small pickup truck that slid off the road at about 10:53 a.m. The driver, who was not identified, sustained minor injuries and was transported to WhidbeyHealth Medical Center.
Rusty Floyd, a 37-year-old Clinton resident, was southbound near Bailey Road when he flipped his 1990 Jeep Cherokee onto its side at about 3:15 p.m.
Before the crash, he spotted an ice patch. He slowed down to about 15 miles per hour, but it was still slick enough to rob his control of the vehicle. It slid off the road and onto an embankment before tumbling over.
“I knew it was going to be icy there,” Floyd said. “It was slippier than I thought it was going to be…I was steering like I normally would, but it steered off in a different direction. It never caught traction.”
Floyd, uninjured, climbed out the back window. First responders arrived later and closed the road to one-way traffic only.
South Whidbey Fire/EMS Deputy Chief Wendy Moffatt said Floyd was unlucky.
“He wasn’t exceeding the speed limit, he just lost control on the ice,” Moffatt said.
Moffatt expected Thursday night and early Friday morning to be just as bad for crashes.
“We need to slow down and pay attention to the roads,” Moffatt said. “Commuters beware.”
There were also slide-off accidents on Bayview Road and Goldsmith Road in Bayview, Bush Point Road in Freeland, Saratoga Road in Langley and East Harbor Road and Pheasant Farm Road in Freeland.
Details of the crashes were limited or nonexistent, according to officials from South Whidbey Fire/EMS, Island County Sheriff’s Office and Washington State Patrol due to lack of severity. None, according to Palmer and Detective Ed Wallace of the Island Sheriff’s Office, required drivers or passengers to be transported to a hospital.