Up to 50 vehicles were involved in a series of Hanford truck accidents and car collisions on January 31, 2017. Among the factors cited for causing the truck accidents were dense fog and people driving too fast for conditions. Traffic was backed up for more than four miles along westbound Highway 198, which led to multiple collisions along the route.
Initial Crash Lead to Chain Reaction
According to reports, the initial crash happened westbound at Highway 198 and 16th Avenue. That crash occurred at around 8:25 a.m., but the fallout from the incident led to a chain reaction of crashes involving a variety of cars, trucks, and big rigs. Despite involving around 50 vehicles, 12 people wound up going to hospitals but those who were taken away for medical care had minor injuries. Up to 100 additional people were involved in the Hanford truck accidents, but not injured.
The injured were taken to Adventist Medical Center, Kaweah Delta Medical Center, and Community Regional Medical Center. Those who were not injured were taken to the Civic Center in Hanford so they could speak with the police.
Although the fog was cited as a factor in the collisions, a spokesperson for the California Highway Patrol’s Hanford area office said speed was also a factor. As traffic backed up along the highway, vehicles approaching halted traffic failed to stop in time, causing new crashes to occur.
“Every single one of these collisions was caused by people driving too fast for the conditions,” Officer John Tyler said. “This wasn’t a single 50-car pile-up. This was multiple collisions separated by seconds or minutes.”
Prior to the 50-car pile-up, two big rigs were involved in a collision on northbound Highway 41, south of the eastbound Highway 198 ramp. Officials indicate a southbound truck attempted to access the Highway 198 ramp and was hit by another tractor-trailer that was reportedly being driven too fast for road conditions. Two other vehicles wound up running into the collision.
Heavy fog can be dangerous for drivers who fail to use caution or anticipate hazards on the road. Among steps, drivers can take to protect themselves and other motorists are using their headlights and driving slower in case they need to stop suddenly.
“Everybody who thought it was OK to go 60 in the fog found out that it’s not OK,” Tyler said.
California Drivers Report Dense Fog Leading Up to Multi-Vehicle Accident
Martin Reyes, a mechanic whose business sits next to Highway 198 said in the heavy fog there was zero visibility. Although he did not see the initial accident, he told the Fresno Bee he heard a crash around 9:00 a.m. and went outside to take a look. At that point, he saw a big rig crash into a vehicle.
“He couldn’t stop in time,” Reyes said. “It sounded like tires and boom boom boom—scary.”
Meanwhile, tow truck drivers said they were kept busy hauling damaged vehicles off the highway following the Hanford truck accidents. Chris Hamilton, who owns Hanford Towing Co., told the Fresno Bee he towed five vehicles out of the crash site and noted that large trucks might have affected drivers’ visibility.
Weather Advisory Issued Prior to Hanford Truck Accidents
On January 30, 2017, the National Weather Service issued a dense fog advisory, the first of the season. That advisory noted there was less than a quarter-mile in some areas. At around 7:30 a.m. the next morning, the National Weather Service put visibility at around 50 feet.
Motorists Describe Highway Crashes
Motorists who were involved in the Hanford truck accidents and car crashes describe a chain reaction effect that led from the initial crash to each of the subsequent crashes.
“The way the fog was I saw cars just stopping and you can already tell there was already an accident, and so we stopped and I looked in my mirror and I just saw this truck not being able to stop and he just ran into me,” said Miguel Gonzalez, whose vehicle was damaged in the crash.
Joseph Coronado described seeing vehicles in front of him stopped for an accident that happened further up the road. “Then I got in [an accident] too and right when I got out all I heard was just more crashing, like a domino effect.”
Meanwhile, a family member of a 21-year-old crash victim described him as being in a lot of pain and possibly having a broken nose. She noted that his airbags did not deploy in the crash.
Highway 198 Shut Down for Four Hours
It took around four hours for officials and tow truck drivers to clear up the accidents and get traffic moving again. Ultimately motorists were lucky that there weren’t more serious injuries or even deaths linked to the Hanford truck accidents. On December 31, 2016, two people were killed in a 30-car pile-up on Interstate 5 near Fort Tejon that was also linked to heavy fog. According to officials, an initial crash around 9:00 a.m. became a chain reaction when a tractor-trailer ran into the two vehicles involved in the initial accident.