36-car pileup kills one, injures dozens on I-390

A 36-vehicle pileup Sunday afternoon left one teenager dead and 24 injured on Interstate 390 near the runway of the Greater Rochester International Airport.

The accident spread over all three lanes of the interstate, stretching the length of a football field. Over 60 emergency responders, including 23 ambulance crews and four fire departments, had to climb over and crawl under cars to reach most of the victims. After several hours, they managed to cut four individuals out of their vehicles and rescue all but one.

A driver near the center of the pileup, 17-year-old Le Ngo, died at Strong Memorial Hospital later in the day. Ngo was a resident of Rochester and a junior at Rochester's School of the Arts, where she studied music and played the flute.

"She was an honor student," City School District spokesman Tom Petronio told the Democrat and Chronicle. "Very quiet and was loved by her teachers."

Twenty-four other people, all adults, sustained injuries and were taken to area hospitals. Among them, 18 have been treated and released and 18-year-old Lyubov Klepanchuk was the only victim in critical condition as of Monday. Those who suffered minor injuries waited and were treated inside tour buses at the scene.

"I've been in Gates for about 32 years," Gates Fire Chief Jim Harrington told Rochester TV station WHAM. "This is one of the most severe accidents we've ever had on any of the interstate highways we cover here."

"It's one of the most serious accidents we've had all year and in the last couple years actually," Mike Serretto of the State Police said in an interview with Rochester TV station WHEC.

Southbound traffic was reopened after several hours, but was delayed for the better part of the day.

Freshman Debbie Bertlesman said that when she tried to drive back to Geneseo from Rochester after picking up a friend at the airport, she encountered a lot of problems.

"We couldn't get onto 390 for a while," Bertlesman said. "There were no detour signs or anything explaining what was going on. Once we finally got on 390, the road was really bad and there were a lot of cars that had slid off the road."

Police attributed the cause of the accident to snow drifting from a hill in 37 mph wind gusts, resulting in whiteout conditions that prevented drivers from seeing more than 20 feet in front of them. No arrests or citations were issued.