Only on 13: Man says fallen power lines from chain-reaction crash 'whiplashed' into side of his car

Friday, May 19, 2023
Chain-reaction crash on feeder causes power lines to fall on SW Fwy
Downed powerlines on the I-69 Southwest Freeway at Newcastle Drive caused major Houston traffic delays on Thursday morning.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Downed power lines that fell on the I-69 Southwest Freeway at Newcastle Drive during a chain-reaction crash caused a traffic headache Thursday morning.

SkyEye video showed crews pulling the power lines off the freeway shortly before 9 a.m. Video also shows a garbage truck beneath the power lines with a smashed windshield.

Traffic came to a standstill headed toward the Galleria area when all southbound lanes were closed. Cars were starting to move again when the freeway reopened just before 9:30 a.m.

According to Houston police, a vehicle ran a red light and slammed an SUV into a power pole at the intersection of the feeder road and Newcastle Drive.

The crash into the pole sparked a mini explosion, which caused the power lines to collapse onto the feeder and up onto the mainlanes, police said.

In total, power lines from four separate poles came down in the chain reaction, CenterPoint Energy said. According to HPD, calls about the downed lines started coming in just after 8 a.m.

Houston fire officials had to extract everyone from the two vehicles involved in the crash and transport them to area hospitals.

Video from the ground showed the aftermath of the initial crash. The vehicles involved were heavily damaged and power lines were scattered on the road.

Meanwhile, a blue garbage truck on the mainlanes of the Southwest Freeway got tangled in the downed lines, which sparked another chain-reaction crash with other cars on the freeway, HPD said.

Alan Alvarez said he was driving down US-59 on his way to work when that large blue truck in front of him started to behave strangely.

"When I got on the freeway, you see the truck kind of spaz out and come to a complete stop," Alvarez said.

He realized that power lines running over the freeway had fallen from the sky.

"They whiplashed all the way around and hit me on the side of the car," Alvarez said.

The blue truck, just yards in front of him had caught the lines halfway up the grill before they slid up the windshield and smashed it.

"If it would have hit any other car, I mean..." Alvarez said.

The heavy-duty truck took the brunt of the impact, and police told Alvarez to count himself lucky.

"I really lucked out, and just looking at it too, it would have made my car into a convertible," Alvarez said.

Alvarez said all he could think about was his family.

"The first thing that came to my head is, 'I did not kiss my kids bye this morning.' I was in a hurry to get out of there and, I don't know," Alvarez said.

Alvarez went straight home and gave his kids those kisses and said he won't be missing any more.

"They came out and grabbed me and it felt surreal. Like I wasn't supposed to be there," Alvarez said.

The truck driver had a close call, according to HFD officials. He made the right call about what to do when energized lines touch your vehicle.

"They felt the ones that were wrapped around the garbage truck were still live," said HFD District Chief John Douglas. "In something like that, you remain in the vehicle. As long as you're not grounded, such as touching the vehicle then stepping out onto the ground -- that would cause an electrocution. Stay in the vehicle until the power lines are de-energized."

The southbound lanes of the freeway were closed for over an hour as crews worked to secure the lines and remove them properly. Meanwhile, CenterPoint crews were working to restore the damaged poles and lines.

Shortly before 9:30 a.m., CenterPoint said 1,500 customers were without power in the area. In an update just before noon, they said they rerouted power where possible and were working to restore service to 17 customers.

The first power interruptions were right next door to the crash. Gilbert Cardona is a manager at a nearby body shop. He was getting his day started around 7 a.m. when he heard a series of crashes.

"A loud boom and you know what it is, smoke, you get up from the desk to see what it is and try to call 911," Cardona said.

But before he had time to call for police he noticed something strange in the sky.

"What I saw was the top of the pole just twirling in the air, landed on the signal light, and then on the ground," Cardona said.

With power gone in the blink of an eye, the rest of the morning was spent installing generators so businesses could get moving again.

"Trying to hook us back up with power and get computers running, make some phone calls to customers, and do what we can," Cardona said.

In addition to the people who had to be extracted from the feeder road crash, the truck driver and several people on the freeway also had to be taken to the hospital, HPD said.

At least six to eight people were transported, though their conditions were unknown.