PASCO -- Two stranded travelers trying to stay warm in a Washington State Patrol car until further help arrived were injured Tuesday when a pickup slid out of control and plowed into the back of the WSP cruiser.
Trooper Oscar Garcia also was injured in the crash on Highway 395 just north of Pasco. He had let the couple from Rathdrum, Idaho, sit in the back seat of the patrol car to stay out of the bitter cold.
Linda Braaten, 65, and her husband Michael, 69, had rolled their SUV off the highway into the middle of the median and were making arrangements for a rental car, said state patrol Lt. Roger Wilbur .
A tow truck was just pulling the SUV out of the median when a three-quarter-ton truck slammed into the back of the patrol car around 10:30 a.m., Wilbur said.
Linda Braaten was in critical condition Tuesday evening at Kadlec Regional Medical Center and her husband was listed in satisfactory condition.
Trooper Garcia suffered minor injuries and was treated at Kadlec and released.
Cold temperatures were forecast to dip below zero Tuesday night, and snow and slick roadways are expected to linger at least into the weekend.
The prospect of bitter winter weather prompted Kennewick School District to announce its schools will be closed today and had other districts keeping an eye on the thermometer.
Tuesday's crash should serve as a reminder to drivers to use caution, the WSP warned.
"This is our worst nightmare come true," troopers on the scene said about their fear of being hit by a passing motorist while they offer assistance on the side of the highway.
The driver of the pickup, Joel Patrick Haywood, 25, and his passenger, Nicole Haywood, both of Deer Park, were not hurt. Haywood's 1993 Ford F-250 was totaled and impounded by the state patrol.
Wilbur said Joel Haywood showed no signs of intoxication and submitted to a voluntary blood test.
"At this time, it appears he simply lost control on the ice and snow," said state patrol Capt. Shawn Berry.
Troopers closed the southbound lanes of Highway 395 while they investigated and cleared the wreckage. Pasco police and Pasco and Kennewick fire crews also responded.
The matter was turned over to the state patrol's major accident investigation team.
Compact snow and ice on the roads from Monday's snowstorm created slick conditions throughout the Tri-Cities. Officers said the number of collisions and vehicles sliding off roads dropped Tuesday, but still kept crews busy.
Roads are expected to stay slick as temperatures stay below freezing and more snow with possible freezing rain moves into the area Thursday and Friday.
Motorists are urged to slow down and increase following distance between cars.
Kennewick police Sgt. Ken Lattin said he's also seeing too many people driving with snow covering their vehicles.
It's not enough to just clear the windshield off, he said. Snow should be cleared off all windows, headlights and taillights.
"We have to change our driving habits," Lattin said. "When the roads get like this, we have to give extra time, we have to increase our driving distance and we have to prepare the car for driving in these conditions."
Snow left on vehicles can also blow off onto nearby motorists, obscuring their visibility and contributing to the already dangerous roads, he said.
"You've gotta be smart," he said. "The roads are slick and dangerous."
Drivers are also urged to slow down and leave extra space around emergency vehicles on the side of the road.
Today is expected to be coldest day of the week in the Tri-Cities, with highs in the upper teens under sunny skies, according to the National Weather Service.
Tonight should not be as cold as Tuesday night, but lows still could fall to 10 degrees.
Temperatures will start to warm on Thanksgiving, when the high should be in the mid-20s. A slight chance of snow flurries is expected.
But Black Friday shoppers could be hit with nasty driving conditions.
A wintery mix of snow and rain is possible late Thursday night and Friday, bringing freezing rain and sleet.
All schools in the Kennewick School District are closed today. Richland and Pasco schools expect to run on time today. Several outlying districts expected delayed openings today.
"Weather forecasts call for very cold temperatures in the morning, so please make sure your students are dressed as warmly as possible," Superintendent Saundra Hill said in a statement. "On Tuesday, we determined a two-hour delay was safe and appropriate and that is why our high school students, who had a full day schedule, attended classes.
"Our K-8 students were technically on a two-hour delay on Tuesday as well, but with the early release schedule it became too difficult to handle the quick transportation turn around," she added.
School officials plan to assess roads and weather in the predawn hours to determine if any changes are necessary. Changes are to be posted on district websites.