Officials: 35 Vehicles Involved; Westbound Lanes Should Be Open For Commute

SHIRLEY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Part of the Long Island Expressway remained closed in both directions late Wednesday night, several hours after a fiery multi-vehicle crash left a woman dead and nearly three dozen others injured.

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The eastbound lanes of the LIE between exits 66 and 69 were expected to remain closed all night, while the westbound lanes were expected to be closed for several hours but reopen in time for the Thursday morning commute, Suffolk County police said.

As CBS 2’s Dave Carlin reported, the debris field was smokey and wide on the expressway Wednesday night. A line of cars were left crunched and upended, up to the tractor-trailer that was the focus of the investigation.

As of 11 p.m., a crane was pulling the still-smoldering cargo from the truck.

The multi-vehicle pileup happened around 2:40 p.m. near Exit 68 in Shirley.

“We had a jack-knifed tractor-trailer, numerous victims that were scattered all over,” Ridge Volunteer Fire Chief John Mirando told reporters.

Raymond Simoneau, 42, of Rockingham, Vt., was driving the semi-tractor trailer east on the expressway. His truck slammed into several cars, leading to a chain-reaction crash involving 35 vehicles, police said.

“In my memory I don’t recall an accident involving this many cars and this many people in Suffolk County,” county Deputy Inspector Kevin Fallon said.

Some cars were burnt to a crisp, and it was impossible to even tell what color they once were, 1010 WINS’ Holli Haerr reported.

1010 WINS’ Holli Haerr reports from the crash scene

“This is my 21st year. In my time in the firehouse, this is one of the worst scenes that we’ve happened to roll up on,” Mirando said.

WCBS 880’s Monica Miller reports from the crash scene

An unidentified 68-year-old woman from Blue Point was killed in the crash. She was driving a Toyota Camry east on the LIE at the time of the wreck, police said.

The woman was pronounced dead at the scene.

An estimated 33 others were injured, and were taken to area hospitals, including Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead — which accepted 18 patients — as well as Brookhaven Memorial Hospital in East Patchogue, Stony Brook University Hospital and St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson. Police did not specify all of their conditions, but said one 57-year-old man was in serious condition as of Wednesday night.

He was one of two people still hospitalized, CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported.

Some of the patients were hurt because they wore their seat belts.

“When you stop suddenly and the car comes to a halt, it tends to cause injuries,” said Denise Gluck of Peconic Bay Medical Center.

Neil Grant and his wife said they had just stopped because of construction on the expressway, when a glance in the rear-view mirror saved their lives. He spotted a giant truck smashing through cars and barreling down on him.

“We heard multiple hits, and that’s when I said, ‘This guy’s going to run into my back,’ so I pulled to the side and he sideswiped me, and I said, ‘This is like a dream. He’s just not stopping. It’s like out of Final Destination or something,’” Grant told CBS 2’s Brennan.

Grant and his wife were not hurt, but they said they heard screams, and went to help others, including a frantic woman trying to reach a toddler in a car flipped on its side.

“They were not able to get the baby out of the baby seat, so I kicked off the sun roof and we got the baby,” Grant said.

Little Milton Colon never got to thank the man who plucked him and his aunt to safety.

“He just has a scratch,” said Milton’s mother, Jessica Matos. “I’m doing fine, just a little emotional.”

Grant did not understand how the little boy escaped without a scratch.

“It wasn’t a dream. It was real,” he said. “I don’t know if it was quick thinking or luck that got me with no damage; I’m just thankful to help a couple of people.”

And Matos was grateful to have her toddler in her arms.

“I’m just happy – you know, he can celebrate his second birthday on Sunday,” she said.

The truck was hauling still-smoldering storm debris from Hurricane Sandy from Eisenhower Park to Riverhead.

Investigators said the exact cause was under investigation as they retraced each twist and turn of the 35 vehicles involved.

Preliminary information indicated that the truck rear-ended and then plowed through more than a dozen vehicles that had slowed to merge from three lanes to one near Exit 68, CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported.

Vehicles began careening, spinning and burst into flames, including the tractor-trailer.

A massive number of responders showed up, including five fire departments and 19 ambulance crews.

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