In early March of 2005, several months before I retired, I had planned to get an early start on a Saturday morning and drive to Goldthwaite and arrive before lunch. Living in Bayou Vista, Texas, right on the Gulf Coast, I had a 4 plus, hour drive awaiting me.
Setting my clock for 5:30 AM, I awoke with a start at 6:00 AM. I hadn’t turned “on” the alarm. So much for a real early start! Rushing and getting dressed I looked outside toward my boat dock and noticed that it was foggy, not unusual for this time of the year. Nothing to load up so I climbed into my 4WD, Suburban and headed out, but there was only about 200 yards visibility, not strange for this time of year. Figuring that the farther I went inland, the lighter the fog would be, so I pressed on.
Heading north on I-45 the traffic, yes traffic at 6:20 AM on a Saturday was moving along about 45 MPH and the farther inland I drove, it seemed that the fog was getting thicker. Seventeen miles from downtown Houston, Beltway 8, a toll road, exits east and west. It is a high, elevated, curving, exit to the west and the fog almost, it seemed, enveloped the exit.
Clicking on my blinkers, the traffic report that came on, every 20 minutes on weekends, instead of the 10 minutes on work days, reported heavy fog on Beltway 8 around Texas 288, The Nolan Ryan Expressway, 5 miles ahead. Slow going for a ways!
On the “Raceway”, or Beltway, posted speed is 65 MPH, which is ignored by most of the drivers. Most motorist clip along at 75 or 80, but today, caution prevailed and we were down to 40 and nearing 288, traffic slowed dramatically, red lights glaring, hazard lights blinking and we entered a white world! The radio blared, “There has been a series of major accident on Beltway 8 between Hillcroft and Cullen, and reports from the scene say the Beltway is closed.”
Closed it was and the fog was so thick that I could barely make out the reflections of the taillights to my front. I have never seen, or even imagined, that fog could be so heavy! Behind me I heard a grinding CRASH, and braced for a hit that never came.
The sounds of more crashes echoed behind me, everything was stopped, so there was nothing to do but listen to the radio, that was now getting better reports from the authorities. The Beltway was closed both ways and at least 100 cars had been involved in a chain reaction accident on the inbound side and at least 1,000 cars were stuck and fogged in. Deaths and injuries were reported and the sight of the original crashes was still over a mile away!
Sirens were blaring from every direction as police and sheriff’s officers begin to arrive all along the Beltway. They begin moving cars off of the Beltway and soon I was on the access road, still heading west, but stopped. We crept along enshrouded in fog and in some places it was so thick that it looked to be impenetrable.
After about an hour, the fog was lifting and we began to creep along side the scene of the most deadly accidents. Then, just like that, the fog lifted! Cars were piled into each other and resembled accordions, reminding me of scenes from “The Highway Of Death” in Kuwait; some cars were upside down on the grades leading up the overpasses, with radiator fluid, gasoline and oil pooled on the road surface, people were milling around stunned and law officers were everywhere. We continued our creep for 600 or 700 yards and up ahead, in bright sunshine, I saw a DPS trooper directing us back on to the Beltway!
Since we were being herded along, we couldn’t get out of our vehicles to help. All I could do was say a prayer for those involved and thank the Lord that I was 15 minutes late. If I had been on time, I would have been right in the middle of it!
Final tally was 110, cars and trucks involved, with 7 deaths and a myriad of injured. Skid marks still remain on the road surface and median attesting to the speed and violence of the crashes!