Wintry weather wreaks havoc on roadways

Icy conditions crippled the region’s roadways Friday, causing scores of crashes and countless closures that stranded motorists in a frozen gridlock.

A series of wrecks, including an eight-car pileup, prompted authorities to shut down the interstates and the heavily traveled Mississippi River Bridge, diverting traffic to alternate thoroughfares that quickly turned into parking lots.

Officers shuttled from one weather-related crash to the next, at times working three or four before pausing to finish their paperwork.

“It’s just been disturbing to see people out driving in this weather,” said Col. Mike Edmonson, the State Police superintendent. “Nobody can drive on ice. You can drive on snow, but nobody can drive on ice.”

Crews scrambled to spread sand across roadways in hopes of improving traction. Police asked residents to stay off the road unless travel proved unavoidable.

In Baton Rouge, officers responded to 113 calls for traffic crashes between 3 a.m. and 5 p.m., said Cpl. L’Jean McKneely, who put the daily average during that window at about 30. Fifty of those calls came within a six-hour period Friday morning, including one that involved a homicide detective booked with DWI.

“It’s a mess,” McKneely said. “Cars were sliding into the median and crashing into the guards on the interstates. But we’re not just busy with traffic accidents. Officers are responding to calls for service, road closures and calls for barricades.”

Sheriff’s deputies worked at least 18 crashes in Ascension Parish — including hit and runs and accidents with injury — and at least 12 wrecks in Livingston Parish. State Police Troop A, which covers Baton Rouge and several surrounding parishes, had worked 46 crashes as of 5 p.m.

Along the Interstate 10 corridor, State Police worked at least 200 crashes, including two weather-related fatalities in Calcasieu and Jefferson Davis parishes, said Trooper First Class Jared Sandifer.

“We’re not used to driving on ice,” said Maj. Johnny Blanchard of the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office.

With sub-freezing temperatures expected again early Saturday, officers urged motorists to slow down, brake gently and avoid using cruise control on slick roadways.

Staff writer Amy Wold contributed to this report.