Drivers were at a standstill on Interstate 675 southbound near Interstate 70 Thursday after an early-morning snow burst caused whiteout conditions and slick highways across the region and contributed to three fatalities in the area. MARSHALL GORBY / STAFF

3 dead in nightmare commute as weather ‘took everybody by surprise’

A fast-moving band of snow stormed into the Miami Valley early Thursday, causing whiteout conditions in some areas, slickening roadways and contributing to at least three deaths in two crashes on Interstate 75.

“It kind of took everybody by surprise,” said Lt. Joseph Gebhart of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. “It was so isolated. It didn’t last very long, but it did make the roads slick.”

The snow began about 3:30 a.m. in Miami County, not long after, a man in a semi’s sleeping berth was killed when his co-driver rear-ended another semi on Interstate 75 at Tipp City in Miami County. About an hour later, two people were killed in West Chester Twp. crash in Butler County, also on Interstate 75.

Ohio Department of Transportation road crews had little forewarning of the storm that caused driving conditions to deteriorate so rapidly, said Mandi Dillon, ODOT spokeswoman.

“This was unfortunately a weather pattern that really wasn’t expected, and it came in right before rush hour, so we had our work cut out for us,” Dillon said.

Dillon said snow plows are still mounted on trucks full of salt, but “this particular storm wasn’t one that we really knew was coming well ahead of time.”

The weather snarled traffic throughout the region as bursts of snow kept coming through the rush hour. Drivers were at a near standstill along Interstate 675 south from Interstate 70 in Clark County to the Greene County line and beyond as multiple crashes were reported.

Drivers in Montgomery County experienced the same conditions as snow melted on warm roadways only to refreeze in a treacherous coating of ice.

No one was injured in a seven-vehicle crash around 8 a.m. on Research Boulevard in Kettering near Woodman Drive. Eastbound U.S. 35 between Gettysburg and James H. McGee was closed for a time. But injuries were reported in crash on Wagner Ford Road near Neff Road in Dayton earlier in the morning.

Whiteout conditions likely contributed to a semi driver crashing into the back of another’s trailer on southbound I-75 at County Road 25A that resulted in the Miami County fatality, said Gebhart of the Highway Patrol’s Piqua Post.

“Unfortunately, this fatality is a case where they didn’t allow enough time and struck another semi,” he said.

After rear-ending the other semi, the driver lost control, jackknifed and the cab with the man in the sleeping berth struck the median wall on southbound I-75. Ibrahimi Abdelmaguid, 49, of Dearborn Heights, Mich., was pronounced dead at the scene.

Authorities identified the two killed in the Butler County crash as Rodney J. Bartleson Jr, 34, and Marvin Eugene Hunter, 43, both of Cincinnati. The crash in the northbound lanes near Union Centre Boulevard involving three vehicles remained under investigation by the Ohio State Highway Patrol Reconstruction Unit.

Callers to 9-1-1 in Butler County described cars spinning out of control.

“It was insane,” one said. Another witnessed the accident and when the dispatcher said it was a fatality, the man said: “Oh my God.” Then he started crying.

Eric Elwell, Storm Center 7 chief meteorologist, said the weather snuck up on many. It wasn’t until late Wednesday night that forecasting models began to change and reports of ice started coming in from Indiana.

Due to a Nor’easter, a system had stalled over the Great Lakes, picking moisture up from Lake Erie, and dropped it back here Thursday morning, Elwell said.

“A half inch to an inch of snow typically would not be a big deal — but the timing was a big deal — just before the morning commute.” He said. “We’re not anticipating a repeat.”

Temperatures will be chilly Friday, beginning the day in the low 20s before reaching the upper 30s with sunshine and broken clouds.