Median barrier cables were in place at Springfield’s I-44 location that killed four people but failed to stop crossover crash

Published: Nov. 28, 2022 at 6:42 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The heartbreaking news over the holidays that a crash on Interstate 44 near Springfield killed four people on Thanksgiving night got even more sad on Monday when the Missouri State Highway Patrol announced that barrier cables were present in the median where the crash happened, but did not prevent a truck from crossing into the opposite lanes and killing two more people.

Those four fatalities in that one accident accounted for half of the eight holiday traffic deaths statewide.

According to the MSHP crash report, the incident happened around 10 p.m. when 33 year-old Joshua Wamsley of Springfield was traveling eastbound in a pickup truck when he struck an SUV from behind, then crossed the median into the westbound lane where he hit another SUV head on.

The four fatalities included Wamsley and his 36-year-old passenger Danielle Dillman as well as the SUV driver Patrick Holloway and his passenger Shandrea Holloway, both 44 years-old from Republic. The only survivor was a one-year-old girl in the Holloway SUV who suffered moderate injuries. The driver of the SUV that was struck from behind was able to drive away from the scene with only moderate damage to his car.

Sgt. Mike McClure on Monday said the Missouri State Highway Patrol is still investigating the crash but that barrier cables were in place along that section of I-44 between Highway MM and Chestnut Expressway.

“The cable barrier itself failed to work,” McClure said. “We know the cables were struck but it’s just speculation at this time as to whether it might have been something like the vehicle vaulting and striking the post where it laid the cables down, preventing them from stopping the vehicle like it normally does. We’re still investigating what happened.”

“The cables are extremely effective but they can’t catch everything,” added MoDOT Assistant Chief Engineer Eric Schroeter in talking about the barrier cables in general. “Studies have shown they’re over 95 percent effective at stopping cross-median crashes. It’s designed to catch light trucks and cars but we do see them catching semi-trucks as well even though it’s not designed to catch that heavy of a vehicle. But some of the factors involved in them not working are extremely high rates of speed and also the angle of contact. The more the vehicle hits at an angle as opposed to head-on, the more chance it has to get through. And some lower vehicles actually have the nose of the car get underneath the cable and lift it up.”

Median barrier cables were not installed in Missouri until 2002 and at a cost of more than $200,000-per-mile, are currently on only about 800 miles of the state’s 33,000 miles of roadways.

But they have made a huge difference.

“We’ve seen an almost 92 percent reduction in fatalities and over the years we’ve saved over 500 lives,” Schroeter said. “Cross-median crashes are the most horrific of crashes because they most often result in head-on or T-bone type crashes that are very devastating.”

“We can attest to that as troopers,” McClure said. “As there have been times in our history where those cable barriers have saved our lives.”

Because of the high cost of the cable barriers, MoDOT has had to prioritize where it places them.’

“Our strategy has been looking at places where it has a big payback,” Schroeter said. “Places where we have major traffic volumes and where the median is less than 60-feet where there’s less room for an errant vehicle to come back under control without crossing into the other lanes. And now as we watch traffic patterns grow in different areas you’ll see us continue to install these as a safety countermeasure.”

But no matter how wide the median is, crossover accidents leave little reaction time for either driver.

“They are covering that distance in literally a blink of an eye,” Schroeter pointed out.

“That grass and incline in the median is not going to slow down something traveling at 70 miles-per-hour,” McClure said. “And it’s sad to see the trajectory of lives that are impacted. Whether it’s an unintentional act of driving too fast, not keeping a manageable following distance from the vehicle in front of you, driving impaired or driving distracted, all of those are going to come into play. And they do in virtually every crash the highway patrol works statewide.”

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