U.S. 70 was more parking lot than highway for about two hours Tuesday morning in western Havelock after a series of four crashes sent three people to the hospital and caused a massive rush-hour traffic jam.
“Seven o’clock in the morning in that area is always heavily traveled,” Havelock Police Chief G. Wayne Cyrus said of U.S. 70. “There’s always a lot of traffic there.”
“It’s a matter of being cautious as operators and of being aware of what’s going on around them,” Cyrus said. “There were several factors that were the likely cause of all four of the accidents. You get those who likely want to see what’s going on and they fail to pay attention. Until we get the full report on those other crashes, we just don’t know.”
The first crash happened on U.S. 70 at the Walmart traffic signal shortly before 7 a.m. Cyrus said Jerry Warren, 43, of Pikeville, was driving a tractor trailer east when the light turned yellow. Cyrus said Warren explained that he was not able to stop in time because of the speed and weight of the truck.
Cyrus said Warren collided with Travis Lewis Jr., 52, of New Bern, who was attempting to pull his 2003 Ford from the service road onto U.S. 70. Cyrus said Lewis indicated that his traffic signal had turned green, and a pair of witnesses gave conflicting accounts as to the status of the light at the time of the crash.
Lewis was transported to CarolinaEast Medical Center in New Bern where he was treated and released, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
Cyrus said police were investigating and no charges have yet to be filed.
As police worked to clear that wreck, another crash happened further west on U.S. 70 between Tucker Creek and MacDonald Downs at 7:18 a.m. It involved five cars and sent two people to the hospital.
All five vehicles were travelling east in the left lane when the chain reaction crash happened.
Chelsea Nicole Flohe, 34, of New Bern, was driving a 2008 Land Rover when she stopped for traffic in front of her. Behind her was Joseph Lee Rosalez, 29, of New Bern, driving a 2012 GMC, then Kevin Lloyd Jenn, 55, of New Bern, driving a 2006 Honda, and Naomi Lynn Bearden, 36, driving a 2012 Cadillac. As the four drivers were slowing to a stop, a fifth car, a 2003 Saturn driven by Jonathan C. Doskocil, 26, of New Bern, failed to stop and struck the Bearden vehicle, Cyrus said.
“Mr. Doskocil had failed to recognize that the vehicles in front of him were slowing and stopping and he was unable to stop before striking vehicle number four in the rear, which pushed that vehicle into vehicle number three, which pushed that vehicle into vehicle two, which pushed vehicle two into vehicle number one,” Cyrus said. “It was a chain-reaction type of accident.”
Two people were taken to CarolinaEast, including a 2-year-old juvenile from the Bearden car, but their injuries were not life-threatening.
Cyrus said the wreck is still under investigation and no charges have been filed yet.
While traffic was backed up for the five-car wreck, there was another wreck on U.S. 70 in the westbound lane near the entrance to the MacDonald Downs subdivision at 7:44 a.m. It involved a 2008 Chevrolet operated by Christopher Bilby, 29, of Jacksonville, and a 2010 Hyundai driven by Kevin Nkeng Alembong, 32, of New Bern, Cyrus said.
In that crash, Bilby failed to recognize that the Alembong vehicle was slowing and stopping for the traffic ahead of it. Bilby ran into the back of the Alembong car, Cyrus said. That wreck had no injuries and minor damage, and is still under investigation.
A fourth wreck happened at 8:38 a.m. near the intersection of Hickman Hill Loop Road and U.S. 70 East. In that wreck, Shannon Horst O’Conner, 34, of Havelock, driving a 2011 Toyota, struck a 2003 Lincoln driven by Micah David Hickman, 25, of Havelock.
Cyrus said O’Conner was turning left from Pine Grove Road onto U.S. 70 East, as Hickman was turning right off Hickman Hill Loop Road heading east as well. He said O’Connor changed lanes without realizing Hickman was there, striking his car in the left side.
Cyrus said no one was injured with only minor damage to the cars.
All the crashes caused a large backup of rush-hour traffic on U.S. 70 East for about two hours. At one point, vehicles backed up to near Stately Pines.
The service road in front of the Tucker Creek subdivision also backed up as drivers tried to find a quicker way around the delays on the highway. But those who thought they were in for a shorter ride ran into a slew of vehicles driven by parents who were dropping their children off for classes at Tucker Creek Middle School.
All this occurred as Marines and employees at Cherry Point were returning to work after the three-day Labor Day holiday weekend.
“It did create some issues for us as far as traffic,” Cyrus said. “We had several factors that contributed to the amount of traffic. Any morning we have significant traffic in that area with employees and military trying to get to work on the base. You’ve also got motorists who travel through Havelock or into Havelock on their way to work. You have parents trying to transport their children to school at Tucker Creek. You have residents of Tucker Creek, both military and civilian, trying to get to work at that time of the morning. Plus we were coming off of a long holiday weekend.”