GALAX, V.A. -- Interstate 77 near the Virginia-North Carolina reopened early Monday following a series of chain-reaction wrecks involving nearly 100 vehicles along a mountainous, foggy stretch of the highway.
Three people died and 25 were injured in a pileup in 17 separate accidents on I-77 near the North Carolina–Virginia border Sunday afternoon.
Six to eight vehicles at the center of the pile-up caught fire, according to a statement from Virginia State Police.
The state police say they received the first calls around 1:15 p.m. about the chain-reaction crashes in heavy fog around mile marker 6 near Fancy Gap, Va.
UNCC photography student Justin Engel rolled up on the massive wreck in the southbound lane and stopped just in time.
“We couldn't see anything because of the fog,” said Engel. “The fog was the most dense I've ever seen.”
He credits a man in a red hoodie for flagging him down before he hit the cars in front of him. He was “telling everybody to slow down, yelling at the top of his lungs to ‘slow down, slow down, slow down,’” said Engel.
Dozens of people were walking around dazed, watching from the embankment by the side of the road, he said.
“They were very distraught,” he recalled. “Some were just trying to comfort others around us. It was pretty surreal.”
Virgina State Police blame speed and heavy fog for the pile-up on the rocky, mountainous stretch of road.
“They were just going too fast,” said Sgt. Mike Conroy, of the VSP. “There was a vehicle or accident that was in front of them and they just simply couldn't stop in time.”
Traffic backed up for at least eight miles as lanes in both directions closed. Northbound lanes reopened around 7 p.m., while crews were still working to clear southbound lanes at 11 p.m.
Carroll County school buses transported uninjured drivers whose cars were wrecked to hotels and shelters for the night.
Engel said he waited three and a half hours just to turn around, but he’s grateful he was spared the worst.
“We got super lucky,” he said. “We had someone looking out for us.”