The Washington State University community is mourning two students who died in separate car crashes this weekend. Both students were returning to school on roads that had been slammed by winter storms, leaving dangerously slick snow and ice. Due to low temperatures and bad weather on the Snoqualmie Pass, more than 100 collisions were reported in North Central Washington over the weekend.
The first wreck occurred on Interstate 5 near Cle Elum. The student was a passenger in a vehicle that crashed into two others on the icy road and rolled over. Four other people were injured in the wreck. The passengers in the vehicle were members of the same fraternity, and were travelling back to school together. The passenger who lost his life was a 19-year-old sophomore; news reports indicate that he died at the scene.
According to the Washington State Patrol, the crash near Cle Elum happened because the car in front of the students’ vehicle braked because of another wreck in the road ahead. The students’ SUV did not brake in time.
The second crash was on State Route 26 near Washtucna. A 20-year-old student was driving eastbound on the highway when her car slammed head-on into another vehicle headed westbound. She was later pronounced dead; the driver of the other vehicle, a 60-year-old man, did not report any injuries. Investigators are still looking into the cause of the accident, but they do not expect to file charges.
Troopers in Eastern Washington were so concerned by the winter weather that they advised drivers to stay home instead of travelling on slick roads. “WSP Communications advises troopers are responding to crashes on every highway in district. Too busy to list them all. #stayhome.” Trooper Jeff Sevigney tweeted.
Dangerous weather conditions have continued into this week. On Tuesday afternoon, icy conditions and low visibility due to snowfall contributed to a pile-up that involved an estimated five semi-trucks, ten cars, and one Washington State Patrol vehicle near Kennewick, Washington. Eastern Washington isn’t the only area to see dangerous amounts of snow; school districts in Pierce, Thurston, and Lewis counties cancelled class due to a few inches of snow on Wednesday.
Is a university to blame for forcing students to drive in these conditions?
After this weekend’s fatal crashes, students and parents are asking why Washington State University didn’t do more to keep its students safe. Despite warnings from the Washington State Patrol to keep off the roads, thousands of students were told that they needed to return to WSU Pullman by the time their classes resumed on January 9th. That means that thousands of people had to drive in icy conditions to reach their school, or face possible academic penalties.
Rob Strenge from WSU defended WSU’s decision to stay open by explaining that the school makes decisions about whether to closed based only on the weather in the immediate vicinity of campus. Administrators do not consider conditions on Snoqualmie Pass and other routes to the school when they make decisions about whether classes will proceed as normal. “Local conditions in the Pullman vicinity this morning generally included compound snow and ice with a one to two inch cover of new overnight snow. Those conditions are not unusual for Pullman at this time of year and, although they prompted delays in some school openings, they did not prompt local public school closures," Rob Strenge told reporters.