Interstate 81 in Lackawanna County Reopened after Fiery Wreck

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SOUTH ABINGTON TOWNSHIP -- Part of Interstate 81 south in Lackawanna County was closed for hours due to a fiery crash involving seven vehicles.

According to PennDOT, multiple tractor trailers crashed in the southbound lanes of Interstate 81 near the Clarks Summit exit (194). The crash happened around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday.

For those who got stuck overnight, many say what looked like wet roads at first turned out to be much, much worse.

The pileup closed Interstate 81 southbound near Clarks Summit for more than 10 hours. The culprit was slick roads which emergency crews say caused seven vehicles to crash, among them six tractor trailers including one that caught fire.

"The fire kept getting bigger and bigger and I told him to get out of the trucks. So did the paramedic," said Paul Fidel of Syracuse, New York.

Also in the thick of it all was a Jeep. It smashed into and wedged itself into one of the tractor trailers that flipped over. Two people from this pileup were taken to the hospital to be checked out.

Behind the mess were a few other minor crashes as people tried skidding to a stop. Allie Giombolini of Jessup was one of those who hit the brakes.

"It just looked wet but it was black ice," said Giombolini.

A thick coating of ice is something that a lot of drivers said they really didn't anticipate. That's because for the most part while they were cruising during their commute overnight, the roads just looked wet.

"You were driving fine the whole way down the hill. Once you got around this bend, it was completely like a skating rink."

Gerald Hart of Fleetville spent more than 10 hours in his car. He was just one of hundreds trying to pass the time by sleeping or talking with loved ones.

Hart's biggest concern was one so many of us can relate to.

"I've been watching the gas gauge as we go and thank God my heat still works. Crazy," said Hart.

"I just saw a tractor trailer jackknife and I tried to slow down. And I started sliding and everybody behind me was sliding, and I was just glad I got it stopped," said Dale Cox, a tractor trailer driver.

And just after 9:30 a.m. the mess was just about cleaned up, allowing hundreds of stranded drivers who spent the night in a one-mile backup a chance to finally get moving again. The detour was cleared  by about 11:15 a.m. and traffic was getting by the crash scene. Both lanes reopened by about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

State police are still investigating what led to this pile up. There is no word if anyone will be cited for driving too fast for conditions.

Get real-time traffic information using the WNEP Traffic Tracker.

24 comments

  • bb5

    I wouldn’t put all the blame on PennDot,people drive too fast regardless of the winter road conditions. Especially tractor trailers, and black ice is something you can’t control no matter how fast you are going. Maybe lack of road care.. but if drive 70mph on 81 while its sleeting out?? Could have saw that coming.

  • Sam I Am

    Does anyone remember reading a story or see the story on the news last fall how Penn Dot said that they were short drivers and mechanics ?

    That was a hint / excuse for them not being out there salting and plowing.

  • Common Sense

    Anybody remember when they used “SALT” on the roads??? Worked GREAT!! Saved lives…….
    Oh, the good old days……..before salt and cinders became “illegal”. Thanks Harrisburg!!!
    You worthless bums…

    • Gabrielle

      They actually had just salted that area about 20 minutes before it happened. I actually saw the salt truck. That was the only reason my cousin actually got back on 81 after she dropped me off around 11:20. She ended up stranded behind the crash all night.

      • Common Sense

        You absolutely did NOT see a “salt” truck. They don’t use road salt, they use a chemical slurry mix concoction…….that’s the big tank in the truck spraying juice on the road. No more salt spreaders……..illegal.

      • Sam I Am

        The area was covered with thick ice, when they spread the salt all you end up with is perforated ice, what needs to be done is to lay down anti skid materiel along with the salt, the anti skid will lay on top of the ice and give you traction as the salt helps to break up the ice.

    • Sally

      Oh, yes! I’ve seem to forgotten that PennDOT controls the weather! Next time I will write them a letter and ask them to make sure it doesn’t ice!

      You do realize that PennDOT is only able to do so much when it comes to prevention. Its up to the drives to either drive safer or stay at home. Ice is Ice.

      • Get it together

        yes its ice but also everyone was aware of the ice coming so PennDot should be out and about Salting the roads and yes drivers also need to slow down

      • les

        @Sally
        I travel eastern US roads to the tune of 50,000 miles a year in my car. And yes, PennDOT’s efforts always fall short in the winter. EVERY state I travel in is superior to PennDOT in keeping their highways clear in the winter.

    • J.Morrison

      Seen the opinions from both sides & both have valid remarks. True many areas outside PA seem better cared for ut most those areas have many more truck/ workers on full staff. Our politicians are more bent on spending their tax increases on themselves and having taxes (of any source) raised is out of the question. Let’s all just pay attention to the conditions & drive accordingly. Important lesson to have as near a full tank of gas at all times, especially in winter. That said, those that think this area wasn’t cared for should travel I81 north of Harford to NYS line. Worst of any areas.

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