The first day of winter brought strong winds and slippery roads that contributed to many vehicle slide-offs and a fatal wreck on Interstate 65 in southern Jackson County.
Lazaro A. Melendez, 47, a truck driver from Antioch, Tenn., died early Friday when road conditions caused him to lose control of his semitrailer rig, according to the Indiana State Police.
About 2:30 a.m., Melendez was driving a 2013 Peterbilt tractor north on I-65 and pulling a 53-foot semitrailer, according to State Trooper Matt Holley. As the semi crossed the bridge on I-65 over U.S. 31, Melendez lost control on the snow- and ice-covered roadway. The vehicle struck the guardrail then drove between the guardrail and the concrete bridge barrier on the northbound side.
After leaving the roadway, the semi went down the embankment and struck the concrete barrier separating the bridge from U.S. 31. During impact, the trailer detached and went through the cab, killing the driver.
Holley was assisted at the scene by Jackson County Sherriff’s Department, Vernon Township Fire Department, Jackson County EMS and 31 Wrecker Service.
The accident caused I-65 to be closed and traffic to be rerouted onto U.S. 31.
I-65 didn’t reopen and traffic flow didn’t return to normal until about 12:30 p.m.
Starting early Friday, police in Columbus and Bartholomew County began responding to reports of vehicles sliding off roadways, particularly on Interstate 65 between State Road 46 and State Road 58, said Lt. Matt Myers, spokesman for the Columbus Police Department.
Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department deputies began dealing with accidents about 1 a.m., said Maj. Todd Noblitt, spokesman for the department. They had responded to 16 accidents by about 8 a.m.
Wind blowing snow across roads made it difficult to see roads, which also were slick, police said.
Police had no reports of serious injuries. However, they urge motorists to drive cautiously.
“The main thing (motorists) need to do is slow down. Give yourself plenty of time to come to a stop,” Myers said.
Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. canceled classes Friday because of the road conditions.
BCSC Superintendent John Quick said the closure was the result of several factors: slick roads, reduced visibility, area schools wanting to close and students driving in these bad conditions for the first time.
“We’ve got a whole generation of first-time drivers, a whole crop of 16-year-olds. The first snow (of the year) I’m more nervous about it because people have not experienced it,” Quick said.