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Lack of preparation, high speeds led to deadly 133-car pileup in Fort Worth, feds say

A photo of a twisted mass of crashed cars covered in caution tape. Firefighters in tan uniforms crawl all over the tops of the cars. Two collided semi trucks lay tilted in the background.
Glen E. Ellman
/
Fort Worth Fire Department
The National Transportation Safety Board spent two years investigating the 133-car crash in Fort Worth that killed six people in February 2021. The final report blames the company in charge of treating the roads for failing to see that the stretch of I-35W needed deicing.

The National Transportation Safety Board released its final report on a 2021 crash that killed six people.

The company in charge of maintaining I-35W in Fort Worth failed to prep the road properly before icy weather in February 2021, which contributed to a 133-car pileup that killed six people and injured dozens, according to a report from federal transportation authorities Thursday.

Final results from the National Transportation Board's investigation also blamed high-speeding drivers for the deadly Feb. 11, 2021 crash, which followed 36 consecutive hours of below-freezing temperatures.

The company in charge of treating the roadway, North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners Segment 3, pretreated the roads in the days before the storm and put up signs warning people to drive slowly.

But they failed to see that the accident location needed additional deicing the morning of the crash, the NTSB found.

“Maintenance crews drove north on I-35W about 45 minutes before the crash and visually checked the road, but they detected no moisture and applied no salt,” the NTSB wrote in a press release.

A screenshot of a birds-eye-view map of I-35W, just north of downtown Fort Worth, indicating where the deadly 133-car pileup happened in 2021.
Courtesy
/
NTSB
The National Transportation Safety Board says the company in charge of maintaining this portion of I-35W failed to monitor the roadway properly, leading to a deadly pileup in 2021.

Ice coated the road, and drivers took the stretch too fast. That led to disaster in the southbound I-35W toll lanes, near the exit to Northside Drive, according to the report.

The NTSB made three new recommendations to the state to prevent this from happening again:

  • Install environmental sensor stations, to give transportation workers more data about hazardous road conditions. 
  • Provide comprehensive winter weather training to public and private toll operators. 
  • Enact legislation to let TxDOT install digital speed limit signs, to update speed limits depending on the weather. (The express lane speed limit in that area is 75 mph.) 

In a statement shared with CBS11, North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners acknowledged they had read the report, but “are disappointed and strongly disagree with certain of its conclusions.”

“Given the extraordinary circumstances, we are confident in the actions taken by the company,” the statement read. “In particular, we want to reaffirm that we fully activated our winter storm program leading up to and throughout the winter storm event, and that we coordinate with TxDOT on best practices for snow and ice control in North Texas.”

The company also maintained that employees saw no precipitation at the crash site when it patrolled there 45 minutes before.

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at msuarez@kera.org. You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

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Miranda Suarez is KERA’s Tarrant County accountability reporter. Before coming to North Texas, she was the Lee Ester News Fellow at Wisconsin Public Radio, where she covered statewide news from the capital city of Madison. Miranda is originally from Massachusetts and started her public radio career at WBUR in Boston.