By Scott J. Croteau TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
WORCESTER – Donna Ellis saw commotion ahead on Interstate 290 westbound. She didn't know what was in front of her, but once she saw the pile of cars the 48-year-old city resident hit the brakes.
But instead of avoiding the 65-vehicle crash this morning, Ms. Ellis found herself slamming into a car, then into a side barrier.
“Once I hit my brakes, it was over,” she said.“I was thinking 'Oh my God, I am going to crash. I don't want to die.' I was not injured at all. I was one of the lucky ones.”
Public safety personnel had to climb over a mangled mess of metal as they responded to people in need of help. The massive crash was reported about 6:30 a.m. on the westbound side of the highway near Exit 14 (Grafton Street).
State police said that of the 35 to 40 people injured, only two had serious injuries. Five EMS companies took the injured to St. Vincent Hospital and UMass Memorial Medical Center's University and Memorial campuses.
“I am extremely surprised that nobody was killed especially the vehicles that went under the trailer truck,” said State Police Sgt. Stephen C. Marsh of the Collision Analysis Reconstruction Section.“We had to talk over the hoods of the cars, under the trailer trucks. The scene was impenetrable.”
Black ice began to cover the highway about 6:30 a.m., causing drivers to lose control while heading down the declining section of I-290 westbound.
When the first accident was called in, Trooper Erin McLaughlin headed to the scene to check on the accident. She began to help one motorist.
“As Trooper McLaughlin exited her cruiser to assist the motorist involved in that crash she observed multiple vehicles sliding toward her out of control,” Sgt. Marsh said.“She yelled to warn to those motorists to take cover.”
The trooper dove into her cruiser as it was struck by a car. She has minor injuries, authorities said.
The chain reaction of crashes then began as cars began to pile up in the roadway. Two tractor-trailers flipped over sideways at the front and rear of the accident scene. Two large commercial trucks were also struck. State police estimated 65 vehicles were involved.
Some cars were wedged underneath the tractor-trailers with cars piled on top of them.
“When the crash ended is when enough cars had to back up over that rise for oncoming motorists to see that there was actually a collision,” the sergeant said. The crash scene was 1,500 feet long.
Sgt. Marsh said poor roadway conditions were the culprit in the massive pileup. The road was closed for four-and-a-half hours.
“I have never seen anything of this magnitude,” Sgt. Marsh said.
Ms. Ellis was on her way to Spencer to pick up her niece and nephew. She planned to take her niece to work and watch her nephew. She wasn't even on the highway for three minutes when she joined the back-end of the crash scene.
A car slammed into the back of her 2011 Chevy Impala when she stopped sliding. Public safety officials had to pull on her driver's side door to get her out.
“It is pretty much a blur,” she said.“It happened so fast. It was crazy and freaky to see.”
She joined the group of nearly 70 people taken by Worcester Regional Transit Authority buses to the St. Vincent Hospital atrium, where state police talked to people who were involved in the crash.
“It is the Thanksgiving weekend so there's a lot of people that were going home that are now involved in a crash hundreds of miles from home,” Sgt. Marsh said.“It was a very dangerous morning.”