The Ottumwa Courier

February 10, 2014

Cold crashes

By MARK NEWMAN
Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Two fire crews, two accidents, two bridges.

At 8:04 a.m., a two-car accident occurred on the Jefferson Street Viaduct. Emergency workers say their initial impression was the cars appeared to have struck each other head on. Just up the river, and also at 8:04 a.m., an SUV traveling south on the Wapello Street Bridge flipped over onto its roof.

Thankfully, said Fire Chief Tony Miller, no one was injured in either accident.

It's hard to know exactly what happened at this point. The Ottumwa Police Department records representative says officers hadn't filed accident reports as of Monday afternoon. City workers at the scene wondered if 8:04 a.m. Monday was the exact time the most traffic was moving in Ottumwa or the moment a flash of "sunlight off ice" temporarily blinded drivers crossing the Des Moines River. Maybe it was coincidence.

Miller said the rollover near the fire station did not cause a complete stop to traffic.

Fire Captain Dave Yeager was at the Jefferson Street accident, which did require closing the bridge for at least half an hour. With all the debris and fluid, the tight confines of the bridge offered no safe place to work on cleaning it up, so they closed it.

"The two passenger cars collided on the bridge about 1,000 feet from the south end," Yeager said. "There was no way we could let people go through."

A good tip, said Yeager: Though it's a little out of the way, using the bypass off the in-town Highway 34 can get motorists from the south side to the north side. It can be an easier ride without having to deal with the congestion that may plague drivers as the traffic of three bridges is funneled into two bridges.

There was a lot of traffic Monday morning, Yeager said. In fact, the city just recently closed the Market Street Bridge for improvements, meaning three busy bridges were reduced to two ways to work and school. After emergency workers closed that part of Jefferson Street, that left the half-blocked Wapello Street Bridge.

Just before noon Monday, police were called to the scene of another accident, this one downtown.

Even walking, firefighters found the conditions dangerous.

"It was deceiving," Yeager said. "The streets may not have looked slick this morning, but they were slick."

Sun was beating on the ice, causing places on the road to thaw, but the "super cold temperatures" were instantly refreezing the ice into a slick, smooth surface. But because it didn't look slick, cars didn't seem to be slowing down, Yeager said.

"It was more than meets the eye," he said.

— News reporter Mark Newman is on Twitter @couriermark