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Heavy rain contributes to I-44 wrecks
Heavy rain contributes to I-44 wrecks

Emergency personnel push a rolled-over Ford Taurus up against a rock embankment on Interstate 44 west of Exit 159 to prevent it from rolling back into traffic.
ST. ROBERT/HAZELGREEN, Mo. (UPDATED 2:12 p.m., Dec. 27, 2008) — It isn’t snowing. There isn’t ice on the ground. But on Saturday morning and early afternoon, Interstate 44 filled with crashes from Hazelgreen to St. Robert as heavy rains led to numerous slide-offs and at least two rollovers.

About 11:43 a.m., a two-vehicle wreck on eastbound I-44 about a half-mile west of Exit 159 between a red 2003 Ford Taurus and a yellow 1999 Volkswagen Beetle led to the Taurus running off the right shoulder and rolling over onto the driver’s side, where it was kept from completely rolling by a high rock embankment.

Pulaski County sheriff’s deputies, Waynesville police, St. Robert firefighters, troopers from the Missouri State Highway Patrol and Pulaski County Ambulance District paramedics all responded and assisted Jack’s Towing with controlling traffic and removing the red Ford Taurus; the yellow Volkswagen had broken windows but could still be driven from the scene.

Deputy Brittany Pearson, who had initial command of the scene and took information on the crash for troopers, said the yellow Volkswagen was driven by Wallace Creighton of Laquey and the red Ford Taurus was driven by Kiefer Smith, 19, of Linn. Creighton’s age wasn’t immediately available, and neither were damage estimates for the vehicles.

“Basically, Mr. Creighton hydroplaned in the passing lane of the interstate and swerved into the driving lane, striking the red vehicle and running both cars off the roadway,” Pearson said.

Emergency personnel left the crash about 12:17 p.m., Pearson said.

About an hour earlier, three slide-offs at mile marker 139 and 140 injured nobody but required a response from Hazelgreen firefighters as well as law enforcement personnel. Hazelgreen firefighters responded to a worse crash at mile marker 142 about 12:40 p.m. Hazelgreen firefighters reported at 12:49 p.m. that the crash, despite being a rollover, was also a non-injury crash. The vehicle had landed between the interstate and the outer road with neither occupant of the vehicle being hurt.

Those wrecks happened during the middle of a severe thunderstorm warning issued for Pulaski County as well as parts of Maries, Wright, Phelps and Texas counties. Severe thunderstorm warnings were cancelled for all area counties except Texas County at 12:50 p.m., but the Texas County warning remained in effect until 1:15 p.m.

The entire region of southern Missouri remains under a tornado watch until 7 p.m. Saturday, and Pulaski County remains under a flash flood warning until 6 p.m. Counties farther west were under a flash flood warning until 5 p.m.

According to the National Weather Service’s Springfield office, the storms were moving east at 45 mph and were capable of producing damaging winds in excess of 60 mph.

Tornados have already struck the state, but none were reported in the immediate area. National Weather Service reports indicated a tornado at 8:57 a.m. near Pineville and at 8:03 a.m. near Osceola, both moving northeast about 80 mph. No reports of damage were immediately available.

More bad weather is expected this afternoon and evening, as the line of thunderstorms has slowed its eastward movement to 10 to 15 mph with damaging straight-line winds being the primary hazard but some rotation leading to possible tornados. Since subsurface soils remain frozen, rapid runoff and flooding are possible.

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