By HEATHER TOMLINSON, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
Hazardous road conditions are to blame for a fatal accident that happened early Thursday morning on the Pulaski-Laurel line.
Emergency workers received a report of an accident between a passenger vehicle and a tractor trailer at 7:48 a.m. Thursday, according to Trooper Don Trosper, with the Kentucky State Police.
The accident happened on East Ky. 80 right at the Pulaski-Laurel line on the Rockcastle River bridge.
Trosper, who responded to the accident Thursday, stated that an eastbound white 1996 Jeep Cherokee SUV, driven by Suzan P. Whitaker, 53, of Somerset, “ ... went out of control on the ice cover(ed) bridge.”
The SUV struck a westbound 2009 Sterling tractor trailer, operated by Michael P. Cronan, 56, of Smithfield, Ky.
The force of the impact tore the Jeep into two parts, according to Trosper, and Whitaker was thrown from the vehicle.
Whitaker was pronounced dead at the scene by Laurel County Coroner Doug Bowling.
Trosper said it appears that Whitaker was not wearing her seat belt at the time of the crash.
Cronan was taken to the Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital to be checked out as a precaution.
Trosper said investigators don’t know how fast Whitaker as traveling when the accident happened — although much of East Ky. 80 heading into Laurel County has a speed limit of 55 mph.
“There is no way to tell the speed due to the ice and no evidence left on the roadway,” Trosper said in an email to the Commonwealth Journal.
It wasn’t long after the accident happened when the Laurel County Sheriff’s Department released an alert that a number of accidents were occurring in the area due to black ice.
The London Sentinel-Echo, sister paper to the CJ, reported through its Facebook page Thursday morning that “Laurel County Sheriff John Root is reporting that all roads in Laurel County — including I-75, U.S. 25, Ky. 30, Hal Rogers Parkway, Ky. 80, Russell Dyche Memorial Highway, and all other state and county roads can be slick and hazardous, due to black ice.”
Trosper said Whitaker was on her way to work in London when the accident happened.
No drug or alcohol usage was suspected.
Emergency workers stayed at the scene of the accident until around 10:30 a.m. Thursday. Until the road was cleared, traffic was rerouted around the area.
Trosper is in charge of the investigation and was assisted at the scene by officers from the Kentucky State Police, the KSP Commercial Vehicle Enforcement, the Laurel and Rockcastle County EMS, and local fire departments.