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Patrol focuses on 3 crashes

Courtney Astolfi • Mar 28, 2014 at 1:10 PM

There’s a chance that crash investigators may never pin down the precise number of vehicles involved in a March 13 fatal pileup on the Ohio Turnpike.

But that’s not to say they won’t try.

While Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers are still sifting through the proverbial mountains of data on the triple-fatal crash involving dozens of travelers, details are emerging on exactly how the crashes occurred.

Click HERE for past stories on the Fatal Turnpike Pileup

Highway Patrol Lt. Brett Gockstetter, commander of the Milan post, described the incident as the worst of its kind in Ohio — at least in his lifetime.

The crash area spanned nearly one mile of the Turnpike, just west of Ohio 101, and claimed three lives: Hannah Matheny, 20, of Parma; Grzegorz Piwowarczyk, 42, of Illinois; and Janice Robb, 66, of Indiana.

In the two weeks since the crash, troopers have been tracking down each piece of the puzzle in hopes of better understanding the sequence of events that led to the three fatalities.

There have been obstacles along the way.

Some drivers who were negligibly involved likely drove away from the scene that day. Numerous other vehicles were undamaged, but were trapped between crash zones. Some vehicles were involved in “multiple” crashes as part of a chainreaction brought on by whiteout conditions in the snowstorm, Gockstetter said.

Troopers have focused their investigative attention on the data pertaining to the three fatalities.

The largest crash zone killed Piwowarczyk and also left Highway Patrol Trooper Andrew Clouser, 29, with critical injuries. It involved three semitrailers, a cargo van, commercial van, minivan, SUV and Clouser’s cruiser, according to crash reports.

Clouser had walked away from his cruiser to tend to a crash just ahead of him when he heard screams behind him from a second collision, Gockstetter said. When he returned to the area near his cruiser to help those occupants, Piwowarczyk’s semitrailer slammed into the pile and pinned Clouser between three vehicles.

Clouser’s condition continues to improve. As of Wednesday he was in the care of Firelands Regional Medical Center, Gockstetter said.

As for Matheny, troopers have learned the Ford Focus in which she was a passenger was either slowing or stopped for stalled traffic when a semi trailer failed to stop in time and rear-ended it, Gockstetter said.

The semitrailer pushed the Focus into the back of a second semitrailer, and essentially came to rest on top of the vehicle, Gockstetter said.

At the rear of the pileup was the minivan in which Robb was traveling, according to crash reports. In that collision, the van wasn’t able to slow in time for a stopped commercial truck and crashed into its back end, Gockstetter said.

Troopers will not be citing the drivers, and instead will forward each report to the Sandusky County prosecutor’s office to determine charges, Gockstetter said.

While the snowstorm obviously contributed to each crash, Gockstetter said many drivers were simply traveling too fast for poor road conditions. The three drivers who allegedly caused each fatality will likely face stiffer sentences than those who simply failed to brake in time, Gockstetter said.

Once troopers wrap up their investigations into the fatal crashes, they plan to pursue information in the remaining minor incidents in the complete crash zone.

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