Maj. William King of the York County Sheriff’s Office was hours late to work Tuesday, but not because he was challenged by his own commute.

“I kept stopping for crashes,” King said shortly after 11 a.m. “Route 111 was like a skating rink.”

Dozens of cars in southern Maine careened off roads, bounced over guardrails or collided with other vehicles as an unusual mix of weather made for an unusually slippery commute.

Southern Maine got less than an inch of snowfall, but in many places that snow mixed with salt left over from earlier storms. As traffic heated up the roadways, the snow melted, then refroze in the single digit temperatures, forming a sheet of ice.

“If you have a dry storm and can avoid putting any salt down, it will typically blow off and you can get away without plowing for some time,” said Brian Burne, highway maintenance engineer for the Maine Department of Transportation.

“Once the road becomes slippery, you have to start using salt,” Burne said. “As soon as you do, you’re married to it. You have to put down salt from then on.”

Sometimes gauging the point when roads are starting to get slick can be tricky, he said.

On Tuesday morning, there were an unusually high number of car crashes given the small amount of snow.

In Gorham, a tractor-trailer jackknifed at 7:30. While the driver was able to regain control of the rig, a teacher heading to Lyman Elementary School tried to swerve around it and went off the road, hitting a sign, King said. Farther down the road, a pickup left the pavement, and as people slowed to look, others lost control and slid off the road, he said.

Christina Larrivee of Gorham was lucky to escape serious injury when the 1997 Chevrolet Tahoe she was driving launched over a guardrail on Route 114, flew 30 feet before landing on an embankment below, then continued another 30 feet before stopping alongside a river, said Office Michael Coffin.

Larrivee, 48, who was wearing her seatbelt, had been driving south when she came upon another car that had gone off the road and was being pulled back onto the pavement. She tried to stop, but her truck skidded and she lost control, police said.

Police had to close Route 114, also called Fort Hill Road, while a wrecker removed the SUV from the crash site.

At about the same time in Falmouth, Jennifer Bearor, 36, of Lewiston was headed south on the Maine Turnpike in a 2000 Ford Explorer when she lost control, hit a guardrail and flipped into the median, police said.

State Police had to shut one lane of traffic while the car was removed. Police say Bearor, like many motorists Tuesday, was going too fast for the conditions.

Southbound commuter traffic also was slowed by four crashes on Interstate 295. The crashes occurred between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. between Topsham and Falmouth and did not result in any serious injuries.

A school bus collided with a pickup on Shaker and Mayberry roads in Gray at 8:30 a.m., but nobody was injured and there was only minor damage, authorities said.

In York County, deputies responded to six crashes that caused injuries, 17 that caused only damage and about 10 other cars that went off the road and required help, King said.

“The roads looked OK but were very slippery. The roads were treacherous even to walk on,” he said.

The National Weather Service in Gray said temperatures of 13 below zero in Portland on Monday morning had risen to 11 degrees by 11:15 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Today, temperatures could reach the upper 20s in southern Maine.

Forecasters are predicting more snow tonight and into Thursday.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]