A fatal tractor-trailer accident on Wednesday along U.S. 33 east in Pendleton County has one resident hoping changes will be made to the 3-mile stretch of road. Retired West Virginia Police Captain Rick Gillespie said he has seen many accidents with trucks traveling down the east side of Allegheny Mountain.
"This mountain highway has been a death trap for years," he said. "There are numerous accidents in the curves of the road because trucks overheat their brakes."
The Franklin Detachment of the West Virginia State Police investigated a two-vehicle accident that claimed the life of one of two occupants in a Thunder Transport tractor trailer.
According to a press release from the WVSP, the tractor trailer traveled left of center while heading east on U.S. 33. The tractor trailer then struck a Ford Ranger in the west bound lane. The tractor trailer went traveled over an embankment on the south roadway edge before going over the side of the mountain into large rocks and trees before catching fire.
"One occupant of the tractor trailer escaped the burning truck and one occupant died in the wreckage," it states in the release. "The driver of the Ford Ranger was not injured and was not transported."
Corporal A.D. Teter is the investigating officer and First Sergeant J.B. Utt and Trooper D.M. Mathews assisted. Also responding to the scene were Seneca Rocks, Petersburg and Harman Volunteer Fire Departments and North Fork and Franklin Rescue Squads.
Gillespie retired from as a West Virginia State Police Captain in 2001. He worked in the Elkins Office for the last six yeas of his career, but was the district commander from 1995 to 1998 and the Captain in charge of Troop 3 until his retirement.
He was stationed in Pendleton County in the 1980s and said there was an "uptick" in fatal accidents along the road. He said it seems the accidents are picking up again. He said there has been one other fatal accident this year and one with severe injuries.
In the 1980s. Gillespie worked to get a mandatory truck stop and signage along the roadway. He said Gov. Jay Rockefeller took notice and instituted the measures.
"It alleviated the problem for awhile," he said. "We also asked for the road to be moved and for truck run-a-way ramps."
Gillespie said the road was not moved and no ramps were installed and trucks still go over the side of the mountain. He said there are three turns that cause the most problems including, "Dead Woman's Curve" and "Horseshoe Curve" cause problems, but the fatal accident on Wednesday was at the last turn near the bottom of the slope.
"There are numerous accidents in the curves because trucks overheat their breaks and lose control," he said. "The state needs to make substantial changes to the road way."
The retired police officer said the community is becoming distressed at the frequency of the accidents.
"I receive calls because people know I have been trying to get the road fixed for years," he said. "It is only a matter of time until one of these trucks hit a school bus or a tour bus heading into Elkins. One of these times it is going to be a multi-person vehicle and it is going to be disastrous."
Contact Anthony Gaynor by email at agaynor@the intermountain.com.