Treacherous ice on state Highway 41 was a factor in an accident Wednesday evening that killed a Rathdrum woman driving home.
Darlene King, 39, was northbound about three miles south of Rathdrum in a Subaru station wagon when a 4-wheel-drive pickup slammed into the driver’s side of her car, authorities said.
The impact demolished the front end of King’s car and forced it off the road into a ditch.
Rescue workers had to peel off the roof of the station wagon to remove King’s body.
The accident was one of scores reported on slick roads Wednesday as heavy snow blanketed the region, closing highways and stranding motorists.
At least 40 people were stranded by snowdrifts on U.S. Highway 195 in Washington as near-blizzard conditions swept farming communities south and west of Spokane.
Among those stuck on the highway was Whitman County Sheriff Steve Thomson. He radioed dispatchers, telling them to inform state officials that the county had reached a state of emergency.
“I don’t know what the meteorologists call it, but when I’ve got snow up to my belly button, it’s a blizzard,” he said. “It was snowing and blowing and visibility was zero.”
It could happen again before the end of the week. Meteorologists expect only snow flurries today but say another major storm may move into the region Friday night.
In Wednesday’s fatal accident near Rathdrum, witnesses said, the driver of the pickup, Mike Opland, 38, of Post Falls, was trying to pass a long line of traffic about 5:15 p.m.
“He was trying to pass us and nailed the lady in the Subaru,” said Addison Isernhagen, a passenger in another car.
“He tried to cut in front of us,” she said. “He tried to scoot over and punch the brake, and then he hit her.”
Isernhagen said the pickup driver lost control when he tried to re-enter the line of traffic.
As she spoke, tow truck operators and Idaho State Police troopers worked in the cold, trying to keep their footing on the glazed-ice surface of the roadway.
The accident closed traffic on Highway 41 between Hayden Avenue and Lancaster Road for almost two hours, forcing travelers to take detours on little-used rural roads.
ISP Cpl. Philip Broesch said Opland may have passed five or six cars before the accident. He did not know how fast he was traveling.
Opland appeared to suffer a neck injury, Broesch said. The driver and his 14-year-old passenger were transported to Kootenai Medical Center. Both were treated and released.
Authorities did not immediately know whether alcohol was a factor in the accident. Criminal charges could result after the county prosecuting attorney reviews the ISP investigation, Broesch said.
Elsewhere in the region, snow and ice combined to make life miserable for motorists Wednesday.
Drifts up to 5 feet deep closed Highway 195 for 25 miles, between Pullman and the Idaho state line.
Similar conditions forced the Washington State Patrol to close state Highway 261 between Ritzville and Washtucna, Wash. Both highways reopened Wednesday evening.
U.S. Highway 12 was closed west of Clarkston, Wash., for about four hours Wednesday.
Interstate 90 remained open, but driving was treacherous. Three tractor-trailer rigs overturned near the Spokane-Lincoln County line at about 8 a.m.
The State Patrol investigated 91 snow-related accidents by 2 p.m. No one was injured, said Lt. Bruce Clark.
About a foot of snow was on the ground in Spokane on Wednesday, the National Weather Services said.
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