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Freak accident happened before -- twice
By Marco Santana | Daily Herald Staff

This photo shows the damage that's occurred to the overpass on Butterfield Road, east of Eola Road. The clearance also is prominently marked as required.

 

Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

Semitrailers can have as little as six inches clearance when they pass under the railroad viaduct on Butterfield Road.

 

Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

Chips and gouges to the underpass would indicate it has been hit more than once.

 

Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

This picture shows the damage to Tim Giometti's vehicle nine years ago when his car was hit by ice that had fallen off a truck at the same underpass when a man was seriously injured Monday.

 

Courtesy of Tim Giometti

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Published: 1/8/2010 12:00 AM | Updated: 1/8/2010 6:27 AM

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The freak accident in which ice got knocked off a semitrailer by an underpass and then nearly killed a motorist on Butterfield Road near Aurora might not have been as uncommon as originally thought.

Two other people told the Daily Herald they, too, had a brush with death from flying debris and ice beneath the same railroad bridge, between Eola Road and Route 59.

"There needs to be something physically done to that area," Batavia resident Tim Giometti said Thursday. "I thought it was a fluke when it happened to me. Now, I don't think so."

Nine years ago, Giometti was heading east on Butterfield Road in the area with his then-infant son. As he approached the underpass, ice that had accumulated on top of a westbound truck clipped the 14-foot-tall bridge and came crashing down on his Honda CR-V.

It landed on his hood, then smashed through the windshield. Giometti said the ice caused nearly $11,000 in damage to the car; he and his son, who was in the back seat, suffered cuts and bruises. He said the ice seemed to come out of nowhere.

"We were picking glass out of my son's diaper when we got home," he said. "I was in utter shock. One second, you're driving 50 miles an hour down the road and the next thing you know, your car is completely crushed."

On Monday, Aurora resident Pete Morano suffered several broken bones around his left eye and nose in a similar incident. A chunk of ice crashed through his windshield and sent glass and portions of the windshield at his face. Morano also suffered a torn iris, which could cost him some or all of his vision in that eye. He said an ophthalmologist told him an answer may not be known for another six to 12 months.

But the problems with the bridge are not restricted to the winter months. Because of a bumpy patch leading up to the overpass, Wheaton resident Kate Haeger said a truck she was following in the mid-1990s clipped the bridge and showered her car with displaced concrete.

"It was very scary because the cement was coming down on you," said Haeger, who was with five nieces and nephews at the time. "Someone has to do something about this bridge. The street is a problem, as well as the bridge."

But the question of what to do - as well as who should do it - is unclear. Canadian National Railway Co. owns the bridge, and although it is located in Winfield Township, the section of road is maintained by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Canadian National spokesman Patrick Waldron said the signs on the bridge, also maintained by IDOT and which indicate a height of 14 feet, should be sufficient warning.

"The bridges are marked informing drivers of vertical clearance," he said. "Illinois law requires a railroad structure of less than 14'6" to be marked with a sign indicating clearance."

He said the company had not received any reports about Monday's incident and that the state does not have a minimum clearance for a railroad bridge, provided a clear marking is posted.

The bridge's height of 14 feet clears the state limit on truck height by six inches.

Winfield Township Highway Commissioner Joe Jedlovec says perhaps a law about the amount of ice and snow accumulation on semitrailer trucks should be considered.

"They should be looking into it because the guy almost got killed," he said. "But how do you do that? I don't know if there is an answer to that."

When a truck pulls out of a warehouse and melted snow returns to the cold outdoor temperatures, ice sheets are created. These then become dangerous whenever a truck turns a corner or gets jostled, he said.

IDOT spokeswoman Marisa Kollias said if anything could be done, it might actually have to start with legislation.

"There's no law that we have for drivers to wipe off the tops of the vehicles," said Illinois Department of Transportation spokeswoman Marisa Kollias. "That's where we would need to start, but there's nothing in place like that."

In the meantime, Morano must deal with a disfigured face, and Giometti still hopes another incident can be avoided, regardless of how it gets done.

"I'm always for prevention versus detection," he said. "If we can prevent it, that's what needs to be done."