When a dense fog descended on Highway 198 on Tuesday morning, visibility suddenly dropped to 50 feet and the air soon filled with the sound of squealing brakes, breaking glass and metal-on-metal.
At least 40 vehicles – ranging from small passenger cars to big rig trucks – were involved in multiple chain-reaction crashes, but there were no fatalities, the California Highway Patrol said.
Twelve people sustained minor to moderate injuries, CHP Officer John Tyler said. Three of the injured went to Adventist Medical Center in Hanford, four to Kaweah Delta Medical Center in Visalia and five to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno. Those without injuries were taken to the Civic Center in Hanford.
The initial crash was reported at the intersection of Highways 198 and 41 in Lemoore. Subsequent crashes occurred between 12th and 16th avenues on Highway 198, Tyler said.
Drivers were going too fast in the fog, he said.
The National Weather Service said visibility in Hanford at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday was about 50 feet. The weather service had issued the season’s first dense fog advisory at 11:38 p.m. Monday, with visibility of less than a quarter-mile along the Kings-Tulare county line, meteorologist Jim Dudley said.
Tuesday’s fog lifted about 12:30 p.m. but is likely to return overnight, the weather service said. The forecast calls for patchy dense fog with visibility of a quarter-mile or as low as 500 feet into Wednesday morning. But a Pacific storm forecast for Wednesday evening through Friday should dissipate the fog.
Tales from the highway
Donna Moore of Lemoore was driving from Hanford to Lemoore in a Chevrolet Silverado when she found herself caught in the chain-reaction collision on the highway just west of 13th Avenue.
“I could hear metal and glass all around me,” she said. “I could smell the rubber. There were cars all around me, but I just got two little dents.”
The first crash was reported at 7:22 a.m. A big rig was turning left across Highway 41 and a second big rig heading north on Highway 41 hit the trailer, Tyler said. About a minute later, an F-250 pickup hit the second big rig, he said. Then, a minute later, a black BMW crashed into the rear of the pickup.
A second accident occurred at 8:25 a.m. on Highway 198 at 16th Avenue, and chain-reaction collisions then occurred in the westbound lanes back to 13th Avenue, he said.
Tyler said he drove east on Highway 198 and witnessed the aftermath of collision after collision on westbound Highway 198.
Busy morning for tow trucks
He activated his radio and told dispatch, “Send every tow truck in the area.” Every tow truck in Kings County was pulled into action to tow the 40 damaged vehicles, he said.
Some vehicles were only slightly damaged, and their drivers headed to safer areas and weren’t counted in the crash totals, Tyler said. The CHP is asking any driver who was involved but was not interviewed by officers to call the CHP at 559-582-0231.
One of the tow truck drivers was Chris Hamilton, owner of Hanford Towing Co. “I towed five out of this whole fog thing today,” he said after fog lifted.
The first collision he worked occurred at Highway 43 and Grangeville Boulevard. Then he got sent to 16th Avenue and Lacey Boulevard to pick up two vehicles involved in a collision.
“Then I got dispatched to 198 and 13th,” he said, which is very near his towing yard. In fact, one of the pileups occurred just behind his business, which is separated from the freeway by a barbed wire fence.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. He said it seemed as if drivers’ visibility was obstructed by large trucks.
‘Boom boom boom’
Martin Reyes is a mechanic who owns a car repair business next to Highway 198 in Armona.
“You couldn’t see anything – it was zero visibility,” he said.
About 9 a.m., he heard a crash on the highway while working. He went outside to a small field next to the highway to take a look. Just then he saw a big rig hit a vehicle.
“He couldn’t stop in time,” Reyes said. “It sounded like tires and boom boom boom – scary,” he said.
Westbound Highway 198 was reopened by 1:25 p.m. after being closed for hours between 13th and 16th avenues in Hanford.
The highway was closed so tow trucks could remove wrecked vehicles from the highway.
Chain-reaction collisions because of dense fog have occurred in various Valley locations over the years, including several within the past decade.
One of the worst pileups in central San Joaquin Valley history occurred in November 2007 when two people were killed and 41 others were injured in multiple crashes involving 108 vehicles on Highway 99 south of Fresno.
The central San Joaquin Valley has a history of massive, weather-related accidents. Here are some of the worst:
February 2008: Dense fog blankets Highway 99 near Kingsburg, causing a series of pileups involving about 15 vehicles. About a dozen people are injured, including two critically.
November 2007: Two people are killed and 41 others injured in multiple crashes involving 108 vehicles on fog-shrouded Highway 99 south of Fresno.
February 2002: Fog is a factor in a string of crashes on Highway 99 near Selma, killing two people. More than 30 others are injured in the accident, which involved 87 cars, trucks and big rigs over a four-mile stretch.
November 1998: Dense fog causes a chain-reaction accident involving 74 vehicles along a one-mile stretch on Highway 99 near Kingsburg. Two people are killed, 51 others injured.
January 1994: Fog again is a key factor: A 56-vehicle pileup on Highway 99 near Selma kills two people and injures 42 others.
November 1991: The day after Thanksgiving, furious winds stoke a huge dust storm on Interstate 5 in western Fresno County, reducing visibility to zero. Five pileups involve 127 vehicles and leave 17 people dead.
February 1991: A series of accidents involving 74 vehicles occur along a three-mile, fog-shrouded stretch of Highway 99 south of Fresno. Three people are killed and 30 injured.
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