1 dead, 1 critical from Thruway crash involving dozens of vehicles

Jan 3, 2018

One driver says he couldn't see anything in a snow whiteout, but could hear the bangs of a series of vehicles colliding on the New York State Thruway Tuesday afternoon - until it was his own truck. One person died and another is in critical condition in a chain-reaction crash that authorities say involved dozens of vehicles and closed eastbound lanes well into the night.

For drivers, Tuesday was one of those days when you could only dream of summer. They slowly moved through gusts of wind that left you unable to see the car in front of you or behind you.

New York State Police say it was conditions like that that led to the collision near the eastbound Thruway's Clarence exit. Ambulances and emergency vehicles arrived via the westbound lanes.

Credit New York State Thruway Authority

Trooper Michael Cassella in Albany said 15-25 cars and 10 tractor-trailers were involved in a series of collisions starting shortly before 2 p.m. Tuesday. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz tweeted that 22 vehicles were directly involved.

Wednesday morning, State Police identified the man who died from the crash. Police said Edward Torres, 64 of Elba, was traveling behind a tractor trailer that came to an abrupt stop because of the accident ahead. Torres also was unable to stop and struck the rear of the tractor trailer.

Police said he was transported by ambulance to Erie County Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. In addition to the person who remains in serious condition, police said multiple people in the crash were treated for minor injuries.

After hours in piles of snow and other vehicles, travelers were bused to Salvatore's Garden Place Hotel on Transit Road in Lancaster to be warmed and taken care of while trying to figure out their next step. Sales Manager Veronica Knittel says the stranded travelers were cared for.

"They were all shaking. They were very cold and we had blankets and warm, hot water and hot coffee and tea for them, waiting," she says. "We just wanted to make them feel at home and safe. A lot of them were crying. Asking them if there was anything that we could do to accommodate."

The drivers called friends, family members and bosses. Cory Zeiner had just explained to his boss why the company truck had a wrecked transmission.

"I was driving along, going maybe 30, 40 miles an hour," he says. "I could barely see in front of me and next thing you know, there's a wall of traffic and someone swerved in front of me. I go to hit the brakes. Can't really hit the brakes in time. When I was hitting the brakes, they locked up and I smashed right into a semi in front of me."

State Police came to the hotel to tell the stranded travelers there would be a list Wednesday morning of where cars were towed, so drivers could find them and find out how bad the damage was.

Zeiner lives in Rochester and is used to winter driving. Even by that standard, however, he says it was bad out there. While he waited for hours to get out, he let a truck driver stay warm in his idling vehicle because the other driver's truck was totaled.

Dawn Dillingham says she only hit a snowbank and not another vehicle in the chaos inside a whiteout.

"I came up to it and saw that there was a pileup, so I ran my car into a snowbank instead of hitting or having somebody else hit me," she says. "So nothing was wrong with my car. I didn't hit anything. I just got stuck in the snowbank."