Originally Published: December 1, 2004 7:05 a.m.
Bad things never pick a good time to happen.
That was more than doubly true about the four-car pileup Friday afternoon on Highway 69 that further enhanced that roadway's reputation as "Blood Alley."
At about 5:15 p.m. Friday, the driver of a westbound 1989 Honda with six passengers – one of them in the trunk – began zig-zagging, then lost control, crossed the center line and hit an eastbound Dodge Durango. The Durango then hit an eastbound 1987 Chevy pickup. Then another eastbound vehicle, a Mitsubishi sedan, hit the Honda.
The crash killed the teen who was riding in the Honda trunk. It also injured the 16-year-old driver of the Honda, the five other passengers in the Honda, and two drivers of other vehicles.
It created in effect a crime scene for police that spanned all four lanes of Highway 69 over a 600-foot stretch of the highway. Not only did officers have to evacuate the injured and work a huge crime scene, they also had to continue answering other calls for police service and to provide for the landing of three medical evacuation helicopters sufficiently far away from the crash scene that rotor wash didn't disturb evidence.
That led to the next problem, an incredible traffic snarl involving more than 700 vehicles and lasting about five hours.
Authorities did everything they should have done – in light of current experience – to cope with the situation, including calling in all Prescott Valley police volunteers, 30 Volunteers in Policing from the Yavapai County Sheriff's Department, representatives of the Arizona Department of Transportation and all available officers.
In the end, it was obvious that we have to find some better ways to handle the traffic when the next accident clogs Highway 69, and we all know that one will.
Some thoughts that the Prescott Valley Police, Sheriff's Office and ADOT ought to consider include:
• Advance planning for routes to which authorities will direct traffic in case of a traffic-blocking accident on Highway 69 or on Highway 89A.
• Advance preparation of signs to place on either side on the accident to divert oncoming traffic before it has a chance to pile up in the accident area as well as placement of volunteers to direct traffic congestion off side routes and out of the area.
• A public education effort to make it clear to drivers caught in traffic to be patient, to follow directions from officers on the scene and get clear out of the area along the designated side routes instead of hooking back into the Highway 69 or 89A corridor to try to continue business as usual.
Another accident on Highway 69 seems inevitable. In light of that, we should learn from the experience and plan to cope with things better the next time around.