By MELINDA WILLIAMS
An elderly man driving the wrong way on Interstate 81 caused a head-on collision between a pickup truck and tractor-trailer early Friday, but no life-threatening injuries resulted.
“We feel very fortunate that this crash was not worse when you consider the speeds that vehicles are generally traveling on the interstate,” Virginia State Police First Sgt. Mike Honaker said of the 5 a.m. crash at mile marker 102.5, just north of the Claytor Lake exit.
According to Honaker, State Police received “multiple” calls from the public about a vehicle traveling south in the northbound lanes of the interstate and dispatched officers to locate it. The vehicle was reported to be in the area of Radford exit 105 at the time.
“Trooper Rich Hughes was responding to the area in an attempt to intercept the vehicle in hopes of preventing a crash, but the crash occurred just over two miles from where the vehicle was spotted by the public.”
Although it was first thought the driver of the vehicle might be intoxicated, Honaker said it turned out to be “an elderly gentleman who had become disoriented and had some medical problems.”
When he arrived on the scene, Hughes found that the 1998 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, driven by 85-year-old Vernon Walter Fizer of Bains Chapel Road in Radford, had collided head-on with a 2010 International tractor-trailer owned by Crete Carrier Corp. and hauling 18,000 pounds of cargo.
Honaker said the tractor-trailer driver, Jimmy Morrison, 56, of Galax, indicated he made every effort to avoid a collision once he saw the pickup truck coming at him, but he was unable to get out of the way quick enough.
Fizer was transported to Carilion New River Valley Medical Center for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries, said Honaker. He indicated Fizer was in stable condition at the hospital Saturday.
Morrison wasn’t injured.
Honaker said both vehicles sustained “extensive damage” requiring them to be towed from the scene. One lane of travel was blocked for about two hours.
Hughes continues to investigate the incident to determine what caused Fizer to end up traveling the wrong way on the interstate. At that point, a determination whether to file charges will be made.
REMSI and Newbern Fire Department assisted with the incident.