40-car pile up in Ontario; woman killed

Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officers assist drivers who were implicated in a 40-vehicle pile-up due to a white-out on highway 11 south of Orillia on Friday, January 21, 2011. One woman died. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrien Veczan

ORO-MEDONTE TOWNSHIP, Ont. - A 40-car pile up in central Ontario claimed the life of a woman Friday after she got out of her damaged car in whiteout conditions and was struck by another vehicle, police said.

Several others were sent to hospital following the chain-reaction crash on Highway 11 that left two jack-knifed tractor trailers — one on each side of the highway — as well as several dented vehicles littered in the ditches.

Some 20 to 30 vehicles were scattered in the southbound lanes of the highway in Oro-Medonte Township between Barrie and Orillia in the aftermath of the collisions.

The crash happened just before noon when drivers were blinded by a major snow squall, police said.

The woman was killed after she got out of her vehicle to survey the damage, said provincial police Const. Peter Leon.

"She exited her vehicle and was struck by another vehicle that was also involved," said Leon.

The woman was pronounced dead at the scene.

The highway is major artery linking northern Ontario to the south.

One motorist told CTV News a bus driver passed him in the fast lane and he was going "way faster than he should."

Craig Hinton said the bus driver and other motorists started to brake and then the bus began to skid.

"I looked in my rear-view mirror and I see this car coming up behind me and I braced myself, and I said 'here we go' and I see her and she just smashed into the back of me," Hinton said.

"My back end of the car just went right up in the air and it was pretty scary."

Federal Industry Minister Tony Clement said he was among the motorists who was caught up in the traffic jam that followed the crash.

Clement snapped a picture of the traffic chaos on his smart phone and tweeted about the crash on Twitter as he and many other drivers were stranded by the weather conditions.

Clement, who was travelling northbound to his riding in Parry Sound-Muskoka, was not involved in the crash. He told The Canadian Press by phone there was a lot of snow and blowing snow.

"We were in whiteout conditions. You couldn't see two feet in front of you," said Clement.

His vehicle and others were stopped for at least a half hour before the snow squall ended, he added.

"When the whiteout condition finally faded away I could see up ahead about 600 metres ahead, there had been considerable traffic with rigs and cars that were off the road in the southbound lanes."

He saw two rigs in the ditch and a lot of ambulances.

Clement travels the route regularly and said perilous driving conditions are common in the winter.

"From Gravenhurst south to Barrie you get a lot of lake effect off Lake Simcoe," said Clement.

"You've got these farmer fields with snow there that tends to blow on the road, so you do have these conditions quite a lot in the winter time."

Scott Aitchison, the deputy mayor of Huntsville and sales manager for Fowler construction, was driving back from Toronto when he got stuck in the jam.

Aitchison described the scene as a "terrible storm."

"I counted probably five or six cars that were well into the ditch before I got to the traffic jam," he said.

"There was a lot of snow falling but more than anything it was blowing a lot. There were lots of drifts. The highway was packed with snow."

Some drivers were trying to pass those who were driving slowly and wound up sliding across the slippery road, Aitchison added.

One northbound lane of Highway 11 remained open, but southbound lanes at 9th Line were to remain closed until at least 5 or 6 p.m., police said.

Traffic was being diverted off Highway 11, southbound at 9th Line and northbound at 7th Line.

— By Pat Hewitt and Alexandra Posadzki in Toronto