Ice blamed in fatal crash; Freezing rain expected to end today; school openings criticized


An all-day drizzle in sub-freezing temperatures caked Maryland in ice yesterday, closing schools, grounding airplanes, causing traffic accidents -- including one fatal wreck in Howard County -- and making traveling treacherous whether on foot or by car.

Baltimore area temperatures hovered around 30 degrees at midnight with freezing rain expected through early today. Warmer air was expected to melt ice downtown and around the area by sunrise, but freezing temperatures were to continue in northern and western suburbs.

Flights between Baltimore-Washington International Airport and a dozen cities, including Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis and Buffalo, N.Y., were canceled because of foul weather in those areas, according to a BWI spokeswoman.

At midnight, some 33,000 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers were without electricity because of power lines downed by ice-laden tree branches. A BGE spokeswoman said the hardest hit area was Howard County, with 14,000 without power in Ellicott City, Elkridge, Highland and North Laurel.

"As soon as we get one line fixed, another one across town is breaking," said BGE's Angela Walters. "We've even had poles breaking."

The State Highway Administration dispatched more than 1,000 trucks, starting at 3: 30 a.m. yesterday, to lay down salt and sand. Icing was worst in Western Maryland, where numerous vehicles slid off freeway ramps and power outages occurred.

In West Friendship, Howard County, a 1995 BMW heading east on Interstate 70 between Route 32 and Route 97 skidded on the wet road, went down an embankment and struck a tree about 4: 45 p.m.

State Trooper John Gilbert of the Waterloo barracks said the driver, Bruce Lloyd Talus, 43, of New Gwynedd, Pa., and a passenger, Wayne Rosen, 45, of North Wales, Pa., were taken by ambulance to Howard County General Hospital. Gilbert said Talus suffered multiple internal injures and died at 6: 19 p.m., and Rosen was in good condition with minor injuries last night. Icy conditions and speed apparently contributed to the accident, Gilbert said.

While most schools in the area closed yesterday, classes were held in Baltimore, causing protests from teachers and parents.

Sandy Kelman, a special education teacher at Pimlico Elementary School, said the school parking lot was a sheet of ice and she had to be helped into the building. At least one child fell coming into school, Kelman said, and only 14 of Pimlico's 28 teachers attended school. Many administrators, she added, remained absent by 8 a.m.

"We can't do anything with the children today," Kelman said. "We want somebody to be on our side, for somebody to care about us and our children and the parents who have to bring them here. This is absolutely nonsense."

Safety 'endangered'

The Baltimore Teachers Union released a statement saying that "the safety of children and staff is being endangered" and demanded a meeting with the school board and the mayor. No date for the meeting has been set.

Vanessa Pyatt, the city schools spokeswoman, said roads were in good shape at 5: 30 a.m. when officials were deciding whether to close. When things became worse after the morning bell, Pyatt said, schools were kept open because salt trucks were out and closing at the regular time would give the salt time to melt the ice.

Some teachers and parents were furious and Pyatt -- noting that most schools did not have full staffs -- said the inclement-weather policy will be reviewed.

Margaret Hobson is a parent volunteer at Waverly Elementary School, where, she said, half of the school's 600 pupils showed up yesterday. Hobson said many faculty members had not arrived by 8 a.m., including her son James' fifth-grade teacher. When she found out that her son's teacher would be replaced with videos, she took the boy home.

Said Hobson: "I didn't need the school to baby-sit him."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said the decision to open schools was made by Superintendent Robert Booker. In the past, the mayor made the call. Schmoke said the policy involves the superintendent calling the city Department of Public Works to find out what the streets are like before deciding whether to close the schools. Schmoke said Booker failed to check with Public Works.

"The roads in the city today were in good shape," Schmoke said. "The sidewalks were not."

Emergency medical calls

The weather caused a large number of calls for emergency medical services.

At Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Arjun Chanmugam, emergency room director, said he saw more broken bones because of falls yesterday than any time in 10 years.

"Hips, arms, legs, quite a few people fell and bumped their head, all from walking on the ice," Chanmugam said. "On a normal day, to see five fractures would be heavy."

It was the same at most area hospitals: At least 16 people were treated for injuries caused by falls at Greater Baltimore Medical Center; St. Joseph Medical Center saw more than 35 people for broken bones and sprains; and St. Agnes HealthCare treated 28 people who fell on the ice between 7: 30 a.m. and 9: 30 a.m.

"It's been crazy! Between 7 and 9 a.m., we had 12 people come in with injuries caused by slipping and falling," said Mary Lou Baker, a spokeswoman at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis.

Sun staff writers Del Quentin Wilber, Kris Antonelli, TaNoah Morgan, Peter Hermann, Richard Irwin and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 1/15/99

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