DUPONT, Wash. — Trey Heck pulled off to the side of the road Monday night and called his family to tell them he was going to be late coming home. He was stuck in the 15-mile traffic backup on Interstate 5 near Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“It is what it is,” Heck said. “I can’t control what happens. I’m here for the wait. There’s nothing much I can do.”
The evening commute was affected by an accident that actually happened Monday morning. Just after 10 a.m., a driver of a pickup towing a U-Haul trailer north on I-5 lost control and ended up in the southbound lanes, striking two trucks that then burst into flames. The driver of a tractor-trailer died. He was identified as Dale Weaver, 59, of Jamestown, Ohio.
The driver that caused the accident, identified as a 61-year-old man, Kim Heidebrink of Sacramento, Calif., was taken to the hospital with critical injuries. Washington State Patrol troopers said Heidebrink may have suffered a medical condition prior to the crash.
Troopers and fire crews responded immediately. But there was a lot of debris on the roadway, and it took nearly 10 and a half hours to clean it all up.
Rachael Ulmen, who was struck in the traffic jam, said, “I haven’t eaten since noon, my kids haven’t, because we’ve been stuck here. I’ve never experienced a traffic jam this bad before.”
State Patrol troopers said the accident happened in one of the worst spots in Western Washington. The military base is on one side of the freeway, the Puget Sound on the other. So there weren’t a lot of options for drivers to get out of the traffic jam.
“We’ve been in here three hours,” said Mike Zawacki. “A friend ran out of gas, we got some, thought we would rescue her, now we’re almost out of gas.”