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Decision to leave water on after main break – causing ice, accidents in Winston-Salem – questioned

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- The decision to leave the water running after a water main break in Winston-Salem on Friday, which led to an icy roadway and multiple accidents, is being questioned.

“Why am I paying tax money for you to be able to say this business is worth more than your life,” said Darius Taylor, whose truck flipped as a result of the icy conditions.

Earlier in the day, the water main break happened near Peters Creek Parkway at Link Road. The Winston-Salem City/County Utilities division told FOX8 the water would remain on until later in the evening so nearby businesses – with their water supplied by the line in question – could remain open. Multiple agencies, including utilities, DOT and police responded and the road was kept open without incident.

However, after the sun went down, temperatures crept below freezing and the water turned to ice.

“It was completely open, it wasn’t closed off,” Taylor said. “Only thing that I saw was the officer on the left hand side.”

Officers on scene told FOX8 that within a short period of time three vehicles crashed, with two of them becoming overturned; Taylor’s truck was one of those vehicles.

“It was just a big ice sheet, there was no way anyone could have avoided it,” he said. “It was a hard impact. I ended up cracking the window with my arm.”

Taylor remained suspended in his vehicle until he was able to escape through his sunroof.

“I remember literally thinking to myself, ‘What’s broken? I know something’s broken, I know something’s wrong,’” he said. “Once the police actually came over to me they say, ‘Well we’re gonna go ahead and close off the road,’ after the fact.”

It wasn’t until afterward that he realized the water was allowed to stay on for several hours after the break.

“I was very angry. I was so upset,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Winston-Salem City/County utilities Deputy Director Damon Dequenne tells FOX8 they never put anything above the safety of the public. They had put all preparations in place and salt trucks on standby. The road, which is state maintained, was salted by the city in the early stages. Yet, from what they can tell, there was some type of communications error between departments.

“Someone, somewhere, should be held accountable for this,” Taylor said.

Dequenne says in situations like Friday’s they want to allow commerce to continue as long as they can, and in that situation, all signs had pointed to everything being handled appropriately before the accidents.

About a half hour after Taylor’s accident, Winston-Salem police announced they were shutting down the north and southbound lanes of Peters Creek Parkway. Motorists were encouraged to find alternate routes until the break was fixed by city crews Saturday morning.

“I think that Winston-Salem completely and utterly dropped the ball,” Taylor said.

Moving forward, Dequenne says in the event that there’s a similar issue, they will ensure that they monitor the situation continuously to make sure the roads are salted and maintained until the situation is remedied. He added that they are not opposed to closing roads or shutting of the water to ensure the safety of the public.