By Jon Johnson
SAFFORD – A 70-mile stretch of Interstate 10 between U.S. Highway 191 in Arizona and U.S. Highway 70 in Lordsburg, New Mexico was closed Thursday after a fatal collision, sending freeway traffic on a 110-mile detour which took the vehicles right through Safford.
Residents reported seeing traffic backed up from the intersection of U.S. Highway 191 and U.S. Highway 70 in Safford back to Relation Street, roughly a mile away. The closure forced westbound freeway traffic to use U.S. Highway 70 from Lordsburg to Safford and then onto U.S. Highway 191 back to I-10 and eastbound freeway traffic was sent the same way in reverse.
The interstate was closed after a couple of serious accidents occurred in New Mexico, caused by poor visibility by blowing dust. Safford residents have seen this before, as blowing dust from a cleared by not planted farm near Wilcox forced the closure of I-10 several times last year, mostly in April.
This time, the dust was blowing in New Mexico, however, and contributed to an elderly woman’s death as she reportedly abruptly stopped her vehicle on the freeway in front of a semi-truck. The truck driver was not injured.
The woman was westbound on I-10 at about 12:12 p.m. near milepost 11 in New Mexico when she suddenly stopped. The collision led to another crash further behind, according to witness Mike Gunney Faram.
“A half mile behind this accident, another semi rear ended a UPS truck pulling doubles, (which pushed it) into the back of a passenger vehicle,” Faram said.
The interstate was closed for several hours into the early evening as workers removed debris and conditions improved.
The Arizona Department of Transportation advises travelers to steer vehicles onto the shoulder of highways and roadways during adverse conditions, such as low visibility caused by dust, and to turn off the vehicle’s lights and for drivers to keep their feet off the brake. That way, other vehicles do not see the parked vehicle and think the road goes in that direction. DPS also advises to stay in the vehicle with seat belts on until it is safe to drive again.