Records obtained by NBC5 show there had been advance warning of icy conditions on Interstate 35W and the North Freeway in Fort Worth hours before the 133-vehicle chain reaction accident that killed six people Feb. 11.
Tim Mills of Fort Worth can’t stop thinking about the disaster, which he survived.
“It was a mind-boggling situation. It was that slick. I've never experienced anything like that,” Mills said.
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He was hit from behind as he tried to stop when he came over the crest of a hill between the barriers of the managed toll lanes in the middle of I-35W.
“When we started the collisions, it just felt like you picked up speed," Mills said. "It was just skating is what it was."
Three hours before the chain reaction pile up, another less serious accident offered warning about the potential for disaster.
An accident report from the other accident said icy road conditions were blamed for a collision involving two vehicles on I-35W near Western Center Boulevard.
“If it was icing up on one section, it would be fair to say it would be icing up on others,” said State Rep. Ramon Romero Jr. (D-Fort Worth).
Romero said the managed lanes between barriers — where there’s no way to escape a chain reaction crash — should have been closed at the first report of ice on the road.
North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners (NTE) built the managed toll lanes and it maintains the North Freeway.
Romero wants answers about what the agency was told about that prior accident by the Texas Department of Transportation.
“What are the triggers? What happens when we find that we have icy conditions?” Romero said. “Did TxDOT communicate that to the tolling authority and how did they respond given the fact that only three hours before there was an accident on the same highway? It might not have been on the same stretch, but it was on the same highway.”
The National Transportation Safety Board announced it will investigate the chain reaction crash with attention to NTE pretreatment practices. But the NTSB said it would not send investigators to the scene.
“I cannot tell you how frustrated I am with the fact that NTSB said to this point they are going to do the investigation without actually coming to view the location,” Romero said. “You cannot get an understanding of what those motorists experienced unless you walk or view that section of highway.”
NTE spokesman Robert Hinkle issued a statement Thursday.
“The entire NTE 35W corridor was pretreated according to best industry practices on Tuesday and Wednesday, February 9 and 10, and spot-treated since the pretreatment. We are working now with federal, state, and local investigators to support their efforts and to provide information leading up to the accident,” the statement said.
Hinkle did not answer specific questions about whether NTE was aware of the prior accident, took any specific action as a result of it and whether there was thought of closing the toll lanes after the first accident and before the chain reaction crash.
Those lanes were closed after the fatal crash and remained closed on Thursday.
Mills said he was disappointed to learn there might have been a way to prevent the massive crash.
"Absolutely," Mills said. “I've never even seen anything like the destruction that was there."
The Fort Worth Police Department and state officials are also investigating the accident.