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Black ice causes chaos on I-90

The evening of December 6 is one area residents will not soon forget, with black ice leading to horrific driving conditions between Three Forks and Manhattan.

According to the Montana Highway Patrol Incident Report, there were 12 slide-offs and an additional 10 crashes on December 6 on Interstate 90 in Gallatin County. The report also showed a semi jackknifed during the evening on 1-90 W at mile marker 287. The Gallatin County Sheriff's Office reported that traffic between Three Forks and Manhattan was diverted off the interstate due to the black ice and multiple slide-offs. Numerous other incidents were reported throughout the county and on frontage roads.

Three Forks resident Justin Brewer and his family were returning home from Bozeman on the afternoon of December 6.

"The road conditions were deceptively dangerous. Although the sky was predominantly blue, the harsh winds continually blew snow across the road, which then turned it to ice. The roads were either perfectly dry or covered in ice, which happened without warning. From Bozeman, it took my family over an hour to return to our home in Three Forks because of how many wrecks and how icy the roads were," Brewer said.

While making the trip home, Brewer also became concerned with how some others on the interstate were driving.

"The frustrating thing is that as soon as we had passed 6-8 vehicles that were either wrecked or in the ditch, impatient drivers behind us sped up to pass us while still on the ice. Although the posted speed limit is 80 mph, caution in wintery conditions would be advisable," he said.

In an interview last winter with the Voice, Captain Matt Boxmeyer of the Gallatin County Sheriff's Department stressed the importance of area residents having the proper tires for inclement driving conditions.

"Make sure you have the right type of equipment on your vehicle and make sure you are giving yourself plenty of time to get wherever you are going," he said.

With the numerous incidents not only last week but throughout the winter, Boxmeyer and Camille Bjorndal of the Willow Creek Volunteer Fire Department discussed the importance of drivers changing lanes for emergency responders.

Bjorndal said drivers not getting over is something she sees far too often.

"A lot of time, I think it's that people don't really pay attention to what is going on until they are right at the scene. We have had a few times where we have had to jump out of the way of a vehicle," Bjorndal said.

Boxmeyer said it is crucial for drivers moving over at the scene of an accident.

"There have been many accidents across the United States and Montana involving emergency vehicles and authorized tow vehicles. We have our lights on for a reason. When we have our lights on and are pulled over, we have people outside the vehicle, and that's a really dangerous position for our deputies. Especially at night where visibility can be greatly reduced."


Winter Driving Checklist

1. Allow extra time to get to your destination.

2. Clean off your car. Keep windows, mirrors and lights clear of snow and ice.

3. Turn off cruise control.

4. Always buckle up.

5. Slow down in poor visibility conditions.

6. Maintain a safe distance behind other vehicles.

7. Expect ice on bridges and in shady spots.

8. Don't pass snowplows unless it's absolutely necessary.

9. Prepare your vehicle for winter driving at the start of the season.

10. Check to be sure all four tires are in good condition.

11. Don't wait until the last minute to get snow tires mounted.

12. Keep an emergency travel kit in your car.