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Published: July 16, 2009 10:58 pm     

TRAFFIC: GI Bridge wreck snarls afternoon rush

By Neale Gulley

The Tonawanda News

A man thought to have been involved in a three-car accident at the peak of the south Grand Island Bridge’s northbound span Thursday afternoon may be charged with a hit and run.

Police are still investigating that angle and did not release any information Thursday evening.

Seven people were treated by Grand Island Fire Department personnel and state police at the high point of the bridge just as rush hour began, though only one of them was transported to Women and Children’s Hospital in Buffalo for minor injuries, Grand Island Fire Chief Greg Butcher said.

Worse than the wreck itself, he said, was what closing the northbound span did, causing extensive gridlock for at least two hours as commuters heading north got caught up in gridlock.

“It literally shut the entire Thruway down,” Butcher said. “It was worse in the sense that it shut down traffic than it was in the injury sense.”

As the three cars were towed from the bridge, northbound traffic was crippled, causing gridlock throughout the region and backups past the I-190 interchange to the Scajaquada Expressway in Buffalo.

To make matters worse, Butcher said the driver thought to have fled (whose identity police have not yet released) drove about two miles farther north with his airbags deployed before his vehicle broke down near Whitehaven Road. That generated a second accident report adding to the chaos.

“Police are investigating that,” Butcher said. “His car was just too badly damaged to continue to drive.”

He said the man was treated at the scene and also transported to an area hospital.

On the horrific gridlock that ensued, he said “It really affects Western New York tremendously when one of those bridges shuts down.”

Cars seeking to avoid bumper-to-bumper traffic on the interstate sat motionless on Rt. 324 and along River Road for miles leading into the City of Tonawanda and through North Tonawanda.