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Feb. 13, 2014

16 hurt in crash that's expected to leave busy highway closed for hours as commission enacts "Plan X"

A massive pileup, estimated to have involved as many as 100 vehicles, caused a traffic nightmare along the icy Pennsylvania Turnpike just hours after a speed restriction was lifted Friday morning.

Multiple accidents left dozens of vehicles wrecked, more than one dozen motorists injured and hundreds of people stranded along a 9-mile stretch of toll road between the Willow Grove and Bensalem/U.S. 1 exits in the Feasterville-Trevose area of Bucks and Montgomery Counties.

“My heart was just like…oh my God. There’s no words to express it," said Maria Schoeler who was stuck directly behind a multi-vehicle wreck. "It’s pretty crazy. It’s something  you don’t expect with this many vehicles. It’s pretty treacherous."

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Geting Around Turnpike Crash

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Turnpike Commission spokesman Bill Capone said the first wreck -- including 10 cars and five tractor-trailers -- happened around 8:25 a.m. about one mile from the Bensalem Interchange.

From there, another series of other crashes occurred within moments. The wreckage included at least 16 cars and SUVs piled up behind two big rigs, an overturned van. A jackknifed tractor-trailer, also involved in that crash, had multiple cars wedged between and underneath it. A moving van sideways on the partially slushy roadway.

As many as 100 cars, trucks and SUVs in total were involved in the wreckage -- hundreds of other cars were stopped on the roadway between the crashes.

"It looked like multiple cars couldn't stop," said SkyForce10's Jeremy Haas.

"We just started seeing a lot of minor accidents, a lot of cars trying to brake but they couldn't brake in time."

"We could see that the road had a lot of frozen ice on it," said Lisa Terreri.

Terreri and her husband were able to stop, winding up stuck between two of the crash scenes.

A second pileup further east involved nearly 20-vehicle wreck that included two tractor-trailers, a FedEx truck, cars and SUVs. A man appeared to be caught in his car for more than an hour after the crash. That man was helped onto a stretcher by first responders before being led away in an ambulance.


At least 16 people were rushed to Abington Memorial Hospital -- five were trauma cases, according to the hospital.

The crashes stopped traffic eastbound and slowed traffic in the westbound lanes -- westbound traffic was intermittently stopped so that emergency personnel could respond. It took more than one hour after the wrecks for emergency crews to reach many of the scenes. One NBC10 viewer sent in a photo of an ambulance stuck in traffic that snarled all the way back to the Northeast Extension (almost 10 miles away).

The Turnpike was closed at Willow Grove and police were forcing everyone off at that exit.

There is no direct alternate route for the Turnpike but for people trying to avoid the wreck, the Turnpike Commission suggested that motorists exit at Willow Grove then head northbound on Route 611 and turn onto Street Road (Route 132) until it intersects with U.S. Route 1 in the Bensalem area.


From the Fort Washington (Route 309) Interchange you can take Route 309 northbound to the Norristown Road Exit. From there go right on Norristown Road and turn right on Horsham Road before going left on northbound Route 611.

No word yet on exact causes of the wrecks but the roadway appeared to be icy after more snow overnight -- you could literally see ice built up on the asphalt.

Pennsylvania State Police said that they believe that drivers driving too close and too fast for the conditions possibly played a role.

A snow-related speed restriction was removed around 6 a.m. Friday. A nor'easter left around 1 foot of snow in the area.

NBC10 First Alert Weather meteorologist Bill Henley said another natural occurrence possibly played a role in the wreck -- sun glare. Henley said drivers were traveling directly towards the brilliant early morning sun.

Local municipalities like the Bensalem Police Department were also brought in to respond to the crash.

The Turnpike Commission enacted Plan X shortly after the wreck.

"Plan X," is the method by which the Commission, in emergency situations such as multiple vehicle accidents, closes certain sections of the Turnpike and reroutes traffic around the affected sections. The Commission has established pre-approved routes for both commercial and passenger vehicles. Turnpike personnel at affected interchanges will distribute written re-routing directional cards to assist exiting customers.

"Plan X" also means that crews expect it to take more than an hour to clear the roadway.

AAA urged motorists to turn off cars to conserve fuel and limit battery usage. Despite the advice many motorists could be seen standing outside their cars using their cellphones.

Some of the stuck motorists were headed to work, which could help them stay comfortable while waiting out the wreck.

“I have provisions," said Dana Goodman who was headed to his job in Mount Holly. "I have my lunch here with me sitting in the car. I pack every day." 

After a couple of hours, motorists stuck towards the end of the backup began turning around and driving the wrong way despite police not directing them to do so.

Minutes before the eastbound wrecks, a multi-car crash blocked traffic westbound. The cars crashed around 7:40 a.m. along the westbound lanes of the Turnpike in Upper Moreland Township, a couple miles ahead of the Willow Grove/Route 611 Interchange.

It’s unknown if anyone was hurt in that wreck.