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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Crash ties up traffic for hours

Steven R. Neuman Staff writer

Cindy Layton was at the Safeway gas station at the corner of Monroe and Francis in Spokane, sparingly feeding her gas tank Monday when she heard something loud that defied explanation.

“I heard crunch-crash-boom-pow,” she said. “It was like a semi running over a whole bunch of cars. It’s not something you want to hear regularly.”

Layton was partially correct.

A traffic-clogging mishap shut down several city blocks near the busy North Side intersection when a semi-truck cut a corner too sharply at approximately 2 p.m.

Moments later, at least three utility poles crashed to the ground. Power lines snaked across the intersection and a traffic signal smashed against the pavement.

Surprisingly, no one was seriously injured and a small espresso stand was the only business to lose power.

But motorists were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the area around the accident for hours.

Emily Zimbrick, 15, saw the chaos from the beginning. She was leaving the gas station with her father when the truck barreled around the corner, hit the pole and stopped. They got out of the car.

But the truck had only damaged the pole supporting the traffic signals and pulled down some wires. It took a second semi, snagged on the loosened lines hanging across Francis, to bring the signals and the remaining lines to the ground right in front of her father.

Spokane Fire Captain Ken Miller, who was on the scene soon after the accident, said Zimbrick’s father was treated for minor knee injuries, but was conscious and alert. It was the only reported injury.

The incident prompted a massive response from city authorities including multiple city trucks, Avista utility vehicles and fire trucks. Police cars, with lights ablaze, parked across lanes and diverted traffic in every direction. Emergency crews spread absorbent materials to soak up fluid leaking from an electrical transformer, and splintered utility poles and steel cable littered the area.

Miller said the biggest safety concern was the downed power lines. One woman’s car was draped with a cable, and firefighters carefully removed it only to discover it was a telephone line.

“The main thing we wanted to make sure was that people stayed in their cars. It’s hard to tell in a case like this which are live,” Miller said.

Tanya Yates, 34, was waiting in the southbound left turn lane on Monroe when the traffic signal above her came crashing down next to her car window. The supporting arm and the signal missed the hood and side of her car by inches, leaving only some scrapes and an inch-wide puncture in the door.

“I have never seen anything like it,” she said.

City employees worked to clear debris and reopen east-west traffic on Francis as soon as possible but needed to install temporary signals for Monroe before reopening the intersection completely.

Spokane Police Sgt. M.R. Wheelwright said the driver of the first truck would be cited for an improper turn, and there was no suspicion of intoxication.

“There’s just not enough room to turn,” Wheelwright said. “This was just one thing after another. It just happens sometimes.”

Avista spokeswoman Debbie Simock said utility company workers expected to be on the scene Monday night, working to restore lines and poles.

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