Two area women were killed early Sunday morning when their car was crushed by a rockslide on Interstate 90 near Snoqualmie Pass.
Janet J. Ichikawa of Lynnwood and Janel A. Lindsey of Bothell, both 28, were killed, as was Heather E. Rider, also 28, of Castle Rock, according to the Washington State Patrol.
Just after 1 a.m., boulders as large as cars fell and covered all three west-bound lanes about three miles from the summit of Snoqualmie Pass, said regional administrator Don Whitehouse of the state Department of Transportation.
The department closed the road until 3 p.m. Sunday while workers cleared the rocks and geologists checked the hillside’s stability, Whitehouse said. Cars lined up for miles waiting for the pass to reopen or took long detours through other passes.
“We know folks were inconvenienced while we had it (the road) closed for 14 hours, but we wanted to make sure it was safe,” Whitehouse said.
The hillside that gave way, which is west of Denny Creek Bridge, was not considered a high risk compared to other slopes in the pass, Whitehouse said.
“It’s not uncommon for a small rock to come out, but this is rare,” said Washington State Patrol trooper Kelly Spangler. “You can’t predict these things.”
At that particular slope, there has not been a significant rock slide since it was cleared in the mid-1970s and opened for traffic by 1976. The slope is not on the department’s maintenance list for the near future.
“It was kind of a freak accident,” Whitehouse said. “We did not anticipate (a rock slide) at this location. We have maintenance people every day maintaining the pass. This is a failure that was not predicted.”
Before the accident, the weather was overcast with some intermittent rain and some fog.
“There had been some rain but it wasn’t significant enough to trigger an event like this,” Whitehouse said.
After the accident, workers found a rock the size of an SUV on the vehicle, a 2004 Volvo S40 four-door sedan.
“We couldn’t tell what it was (at first),” Spangler said. “That’s how crushed it was.”
During the clean-up, rock climbers dislodged loose rocks — some the size of wheel barrows — that were in danger of falling. Workers also patched a portion of the road damaged by the falling rocks.
“This is a tragedy that none of us like to be involved with,” Whitehouse said. “It was a somber time as we cleaned the roadway because someone had just died there.”
The state Department of Transportation monitors about 2,500 slopes statewide for potential landslides with electronic monitors and inspections by state workers.
The most dangerous slope in Snoqualmie Pass is “Slide Curve,” a slope about 8 miles west of where Sunday’s accident occurred, Whitehouse said. The state legislature earmarked about $387 million for roadwork and rock slide prevention at Slide Curve in the near future.