Washington State troopers were no closer Tuesday to determining what caused a man to lose control of his pickup on Interstate 5, cross the median and slam head-on into a tractor-trailer, killing the driver of that rig and prompting a long-term closure of part of the state’s main north-south artery Monday.
Trooper Guy Gill said the causing driver was in stable condition in a local hospital and facing surgery. Investigators had not been able to speak to him about what happened Monday morning near the Pierce-Thurston county line, Gill said.
There was no evidence at the scene that the pickup’s driver was impaired by drugs or alcohol, but troopers are awaiting the results of blood tests and an interview with the man before drawing any conclusions, Gill said. He added it’s possible the man suffered a medical incident of some kind just before the wreck.
“We’ll turn over every stone,” Gill said.
The man lost control of his truck, which was pulling a rental trailer, about 10:15 a.m. while traveling north on I-5 near Mounts Road. The pickup crossed the median and hit a southbound box truck then a tractor-trailer.
The box truck and big rig both caught fire.
The tractor-trailer’s driver, 59-year-old Dale Weaver of Jamestown, Ohio, died at the scene. Two people in the box truck escaped without serious injury.
The wreck and the subsequent investigation and cleanup blocked portions of southbound I-5 for more than 10 hours.
The southbound backup stretch nine miles at times, and troopers diverted some traffic off the interstate and along a route that took southbound drivers through Yelm before re-connecting them with I-5 at points south.
Some drivers reported sitting on the freeway in stop-and-go traffic for as long as six hours before making it past the scene.
Gill said Tuesday the location and the nature of the wreck combined to lead to a traffic nightmare.
Traffic is always heavy on that stretch of Interstate 5, he said, and there are few options for detouring around a crash there.
“That is our choke point in this area,” Gill said. “Think about it: Anyone traveling from Seattle or Tacoma to Olympia or points farther south takes I-5.”
Complicating matters was the fact that Monday’s crash was a fatality, which essentially turned the freeway there into a large crime scene.
Investigators had to take measurements on both sides of the interstate, document the locations of all the vehicles involved and the debris field, interview witnesses and conduct other work, Gill said.
“We owe it to everyone involved – the drivers, their families, the public in general – to do a thorough investigation,” he said.
Once that was accomplished, investigators from the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office had to retrieve Weaver’s body.
“It’s a process,” Gill said.
Finally, crews had to be called in to remove the damaged vehicles, pick up debris and clean up fluids spilled on the road, he said.
Removing Weaver’s tractor-trailer was particularly difficult because it burned “to the ground,” Gill said.
“The tires burned away. You could not even roll it,” he said.
Troopers brought in a front-end loader, as many as seven tow trucks and a street sweeper to clear up all the debris, Gill said.
“This was a big crash,” he said. “It just takes time.”