December 6, 2013

‘A total freakin’ mess’

Eight hurt, highway mostly closed after trucker goes into opposite lanes

By Christopher Smith

— At least eight people suffered minor injuries early Thursday morning when a tractor-trailer heading north on I-75 crossed the median into southbound lanes near the Walnut Avenue exit, officials with the Georgia State Patrol said.

Nathaniel Nations, 64, of Goodlettsville, Tenn., received a warning for failure to maintain lane from state troopers after the tractor-trailer crossed the median near mile marker 332, causing a wreck with a UPS truck, two cars and a pickup truck, said Tracey Watson with the state patrol’s public information office. The UPS truck was carrying mail and packages, Watson said, while it wasn’t immediately clear what Nations’ cargo was or if he had any.

“This is all we know right now,” Watson said Thursday afternoon. “The (full) report has not been completed.”

Exactly why Nations drove into the wrong side of the highway wasn’t immediately clear and is being investigated, Watson added.

Officials with Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton and Gordon Hospital in Calhoun said everyone hurt in the wreck received minor injuries and all were released by Thursday afternoon. Hamilton treated three people, officials said, while Gordon treated five.

All southbound lanes and two northbound lanes were closed near mile marker 332 at 6:19 a.m. for cleanup and were reopened around 12:30 p.m., according to a state patrol dispatcher. Southbound traffic was directed off the interstate at Exit 345 (Ringgold) onto Highway 41 heading into Dalton. Even after the interstate was reopened, traffic remained sluggish during the afternoon with at least 10 miles of backup, officials said.

The lane closures caused a difficult morning commute for several hundreds of drivers passing through the region.

“It looked like a total freakin’ mess,” said Judith Greir of Dalton.

Greir said she was driving into town from her house a few miles south of Carbondale Road when she passed the wreck around 9:30 a.m.

“It was frustrating,” she said. “I just sat there and sat there and realized this wasn’t just a regular wreck. This was one that would close the highway. When I drove by, I thought, ‘Oh yeah, that’s bad.’ Of course, I hope no one was hurt. I had an icky morning, but they (whoever was in the wreck) had a really bad day.”

Mario Ortiz of Dalton also had a long stall to his morning. He was turning on Walnut Avenue around 10:30 a.m. heading to work after “a long time being stuck.”

“It was bad,” he said. “I’m on the highway a few times a week for my job (at a local carpet plant). I expect an accident, yeah? Now and then, OK. It happens. But this was — man — it was dead stopped, man. I left early, but I’m going to be real late. I hadn’t seen a wreck that bad in a long time.”