A sudden cloudburst near Columbus Saturday afternoon led to a bizarre series of accidents involving a total of seven vehicles on Interstate 90, the Montana Highway Patrol said.
Just after 4 p.m. Saturday, heavy rain mixed with pea-sized hail pounded the area of the I-90 overpass at the Springtime Exit, which is 8-1/2 miles west of Columbus, an MHP spokesman said.
"The rain came down so hard it didn't have time to run off the interstate," the spokesman said.
Accidents occurred on both sides of the interstate, less than two-tenths of a mile apart, and over a five-minute period between 4 and 4:05 p.m., the MHP said. In the first accident, a woman traveling west pulled out to pass two semi trucks also heading west.
The woman lost control of her vehicle because of hydroplaning, and somehow, her vehicle and one of the semis switched places and she hit the semi with the right side of her car, the MHP said.
At the same time, an eastbound car swerved out of control on the same overpass and hit a car in the driver's door. Both vehicles pulled over to the side of the interstate to exchange insurance information. Neither of the vehicles was badly damaged, the MHP said. A third vehicle also heading east in the eastbound lane on I-90 went out of control and slid off the interstate between the other two vehicles and skidded through a fence, across the frontage road and into an irrigation ditch full of water. A Billings woman, Holly Ann Cameron, who was involved in the first accident in the eastbound lane, ran after the vehicle and pulled three people from it - a grandmother who was driving, her daughter and a baby. The vehicle was submerged in water almost up to the door handles. The grandmother complained of back pain and was taken by ground ambulance to the Columbus Hospital, MHP said.
Seconds later, a Dodge Durango in the westbound lane swerved out of control on the same overpass, crossed the median, rolled over and ejected a woman in the back seat possibly through the side window, the MHP said. The woman was wearing a seat belt at the time, the MHP said. The woman was airlifted to a Billings hospital. The MHP said Saturday night they did not believe her injuries were life-threatening. Two other people in the Durango, including the driver, were taken by ambulance to the Columbus Hospital. The MHP still was sorting out details Saturday evening and did not have descriptions of all of the vehicles or hometowns of the victims involved in the accidents.
A MHP spokesman said some of the vehicles were registered in Yellowstone County, and some were from Dillon. Apparently some of the people involved in accidents were EMTs who had been attending a trauma care workshop and were heading back to Dillon. They were instrumental in helping with the victims. It was not clear whether Cameron, who is 22, had medical training, but the MHP said that "we think the world of her for helping out."
Three other vehicles slid off the interstate during the same stretch of time, but the vehicles were not damaged and there were no injuries.