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Fog-warning system planned for Interstate 68 in Maryland

By David Dishneau
The Associated Press

CUMBERLAND, Md. – Traffic managers plan to install automated fog-warning signs along Interstate 68 in western Maryland, where the biggest pileup in the state's history occurred last Memorial Day weekend, a state highway official said.

The signs would carry a printed warning about possible visibility problems. Flashing lights on the signs would automatically activate when sensors detect dense fog in known trouble spots, K.C. Keith, the region's traffic team leader with the State Highway Administration, said Saturday.

"When there was a real threat, the sign would automatically come on with the flashing lights to increase the warning," he said.

The SHA's Division of Traffic and Safety is working with a consultant on a camera system capable of judging fog density and communicating by radio with the signs, Keith said. The agency plans to start building the system by late summer or early fall, he said.

Keith said he didn't know how much the system would cost.

He announced the plan at a regional meeting of emergency responders during a panel discussion about lessons learned from the series of crashes May 23 involving 89 vehicles near Finzel.

Two people – Regina Daudet, 66, of Centreville, Va., and Jason Howell, 26, of Millersburg, Ohio – were killed and at least 70 were hurt atop fog-shrouded Big Savage Mountain on a rainy Friday afternoon.

No one has been charged in the incident.

Garrett County State's Attorney Lisa Thayer Welch said her office is reviewing a nearly 470-page Detailed Crash Investigation Report that state police completed in January.

Maryland State Police Cpl. Tony Rose, who headed the crash investigation team, said the collisions in the westbound lanes began when drivers slowed to stare at a relatively minor accident in the median.

"I don't like to use the term rubbernecking, but it exists. Any time something happens, everybody has to look at it, and if it means that they're going to slow down and come to a stop to see it, then that's what they're going to do. Unfortunately, that's what happened here," he said.

Other panel members said a flood of cellular telephone 911 calls during the I-68 pileup hampered the emergency response.