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8:45 AM Mon, Dec. 17th

Weather-related traffic snarl puts local man through ordeal

Courtesy/Steve Lutz<br>
A Burlington Northern Santa Fe train runs on by the large multi-vehicle collision on Interstate 40 just west of Flagstaff Sunday afternoon.

Courtesy/Steve Lutz<br> A Burlington Northern Santa Fe train runs on by the large multi-vehicle collision on Interstate 40 just west of Flagstaff Sunday afternoon.

Stephen Lutz of Prescott Valley was in the wrong place at the wrong time Sunday.

But things could have been worse.

"I left Flagstaff on Sunday about 12:15 p.m. and decided to come home on I-40 and Highway 89 thinking the weather conditions would be better," Lutz said. "That was a big mistake."

Lutz found himself six miles west of Flagstaff on I-17 when it started snowing so suddenly and intensely that he could not see in front of him.

"At one moment, we were going 60 to 65 mph and the snow was not sticking. Then we hardly had time to slow down. It was almost a white out."

Snow accumulated on the roadway and conditions quickly became wet and slick.

"I started slowing down and had my defroster on and my wipers going real fast," Lutz said. He saw vehicles in front and behind him sliding and trying to slow down. "One pickup was coming towards me and I was hoping he would slow down before he hit me. I saw a clearing in the left lane and got out of his way."

But the pickup came close again, and Lutz had to find a small opening in the road to avoid becoming a statistic.

"He came speeding on by and I'm trying to slow down as fast as I dared. The car behind me stopped successfully and then I pulled over into the left lane and realized what a mess it was."

He saw a semi truck spread out across the freeway and trucks piled into each other.

"I got out of my truck and took pictures of the mess behind me and in front of me," Lutz said.

It took about 30 minutes before Lutz saw any emergency help on the scene.

"The troopers came on foot and then in about 45 minutes the ambulances came," he said. "They spent the next three to three and a half hours getting bodies out of cars and taking them to the hospital."

At about 5:30 p.m., officers told Lutz he could leave his car and go to the Red Cross Center in town.

"They said it would be hours before I could get my car out," he said. Lutz left a note on his vehicle with contact phone numbers.

At 4 a.m. Monday, the Arizona Department of Public Safety ordered removal of all cars from the interstate. A local towing company towed Lutz's truck and he picked it up at the yard later Monday morning.

"I had to pay $210," he said. "I expected to get called so I could go out and get my car," Lutz said. "Instead, they charged me 14 miles of towing to get to my car and 14 miles to drive it out. I will be very upset if I can't get that money back."

Lutz said he heard that 139 vehicles were involved in the traffic snarl on Sunday.

"Two people were dead on the scene, 15 people were taken to the hospital in critical condition and I heard as of Monday morning, that a total of five people died," he said.

"I was not overly concerned for myself," Lutz added. "I had food and water and I was grateful that I was not injured and that my car was fine. I think this happened because drivers were going too fast and not able to slow down. There was a lot of traffic. I talked to people who were on their way to Disney and Las Vegas for spring break."