OHP Fines Drivers In Christmas Morning Pile-Up

Friday, December 28th 2012, 5:07 pm
By: News 9

It was a 21-vehicle pile-up that closed westbound lanes of Interstate 40 for hours early Christmas morning.

Icy roads and poor visibility caused a string of accidents that drivers say was impossible to avoid. Now, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol wants the victims of the pile-up to pay up.

An entire bridge was blocked at the Fort Smith junction early Tuesday. Drivers say there was no way they could stop on the slick highway, so they were surprised when the State of Oklahoma added insult to their injury.

Early Christmas morning, Patricia Lewis was on her way home to California after burying her daughter in Tennessee. In an instant, she hit ice sending her into a mess where I-40 meets I-35.

"I kept thinking, 'We're going to die,'" Lewis said.

12/26/2012 Related Story: Oklahoma Highway Pile-Up Victims Speak Out 

After paying for her daughter's funeral, Lewis barely had enough cash to get home and her car was now totaled.

"We had planned a certain amount of money, because we don't really have a lot," Lewis said.

On top of everything Lewis had been through, OHP issued her and other drivers $252 tickets.

"That's heartbreaking to hear that story," Trooper Betsy Randolph said. "I don't know that…if [the trooper] knew all the facts…if he would have given that person some mercy."

Troopers admit that the roads were slick and ice-packed, but also believe drivers did something either illegal or improper. Otherwise, according to OHP, the collisions wouldn't have happened the way they did.

"If there's anything we could have done, we would have," driver Charles King said.

12/25/2012 Related Story: Westbound I-40 Reopens After Multi-Vehicle Crash

King says he wants to fight his fine in court, but he is not sure if he can afford to take on the state.

"I'm a student," King said. "I, unfortunately, don't have a lot of money."

Victims of Tuesday's pile-up say they cannot reconcile the fact that they are being fined for crashing on a highway the State of Oklahoma is responsible for keeping safe and clear. The State says drivers had fair warning of weather conditions.

"If we're saying travel is discouraged and you travel anyway, that's on you," Randolph said.

OHP is encouraging drivers who feel like they should not have been ticketed to plead their cases in front of a judge. The tickets were issued to drivers for operating a motor vehicle at a speed greater than reasonable or proper for conditions.