By Margie Wuebker
Heavy fog in a 200-foot section of state Route 119 resulted in multiple accidents that quickly turned the busy highway into a parking lot.
The Mercer County Sheriff's Office quickly closed down the roadway between Cranberry and Fleetfoot Roads, east of St. Henry, shortly after 7:30 a.m. to prevent additional crashes.
The chain reaction began when Orville A. Niekamp, 66, 155 W. Main St., Osgood, became lost in the fog while driving westbound. He drifted left of center and drove off the left side of the road.
Kevin R. Smith, 38, of Union City, saw Niekamp's 1991 Plymouth van go off the road. He reportedly braked his 2004 Freightliner to prevent a crash and was struck in the rear by a 1995 Mack truck driven by Kenneth J. Beyke, 20, 4741 Kremer-Hoying Road, St. Henry.
Mike A. Shreeves, 50, of Portland, Ind., failed to see Beyke stopped in the fog. His 1995 Mack truck struck the rear of the Shreeves truck. Denise L. Eilerman, 40, of Fort Loramie, saw the crash and was in the process of making a U-turn to leave the area when her 2000 Chevy van was struck in the side by a 1997 Ford pickup truck driven by Kenneth V. Broering, 47, 6722 Huwer Road, Maria Stein. Broering subsequently veered off the road and struck the 2004 GMC Savannah of Keith Roberts, 36, of Elida. Roberts reportedly had pulled well off the roadway to avoid being hit, according to the sheriff's office reports.
Shreeves and Beyke were taken by ambulance to Mercer County Community Hospital in Coldwater for treatment of injuries. No information regarding their conditions was available due to federal patient privacy regulations.
Witnesses at the scene described the fog as being extremely heavy. One man, who declined to give his name, stated "You could not see your hand in front of your face." Drivers had no time to react after seeing taillights.
People residing in the area reported wispy traces of fog earlier in the morning but the current simply dropped, according to another witness.
"You hear about things like this on the television news," another man said. "But you don't imagine it will ever happen in Mercer County, Ohio."
The highway reopened around 10:30 a.m. after the fog lifted to allow for removal of the wreckage.