BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – A Thursday afternoon pile up on Hwy. 218/27 sent one man to the hospital with serious injuries, but Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber said quick and committed action of county first responders saved many lives.
The pileup started as a result of near white-out conditions on the stretch of 218 north of Hwy. 2.
More than nine semi trailers jack-knifed on slick roadways where visibility was very low as a winter storm dumped rain on the area in the morning and switched over to sleet and snow as temperatures dropped and the wind started howling from the north at up to 40 mph.
Weber said quick action from a large contingent of first responders including sheriff’s deputies, Lee County EMS, Donnellson Fire & Rescue, Iowa State Patrol, West Point/Donnellson Police and Iowa Dept. of Transportation crews helped prevent a more tragic outcome.
“I stopped counting jack-knifed trailers at nine,” Weber said. “In 25 years of law enforcement that was one of the worst pileups I’ve ever seen.”
Lee County Deputy Jacob Riley was first on the scene and was rendering aid to a victim of an initial collision. Weber said Riley then witnessed another accident involving a Lincoln Navigator that had struck a vehicle trying to come to a stop, and was then hit from behind by another vehicle.
Weber said Riley went back to his vehicle to grab a first aid kit, when he saw a semi barrelling down on his cruiser, which was struck before he could get completely clear.
“He got out of his car bloodied up a bit and ran over to the Lincoln where that man was seriously hurt and began tending to him,” Weber said.
Weber said the collision wiped out Riley’s radio system so he then began communicating with his cellphone to other deputies, as Donnellson Fire & Rescue worked toward the scene.
Firefighters then went to work with Jaws of Life to get the man extricated from the vehicle.
“Donnellson rescue did a hell of a job yesterday. I’d be surprised if every one of those guys don’t have frostbite right now. They were not giving up and there were focused on saving that man. There’s no question in my mind that that man is alive today because of those firefighters.”
Weber said traffic had to be stopped miles to the north and south of the pileup.
“If we hadn’t stopped traffic where we did, this would have been so much worse. The deputies and troopers doing that work also saved lives. This was horrible. It was like out of a movie.”
Riley was treated for minor injuries and was back at work Friday. Aside from the man taken to Fort Madison Community Hospital, Weber was unaware of any other injuries,
“There were quite a few collisions, but everybody just drove away after we got traffic moving again. There were other semis with minor damage and they just didn’t report it. They just pulled away,” he said.
Several off-duty Lee County deputies also responded to the scene to help with traffic control.
“I just want to give a huge shout out to all the agencies. They really put a lot of effort in and when they have the pancake breakfasts and things like that, people need to support those. Those fireman worked their butts off out there.”