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Originally published June 1, 2009 at 8:24 AM | Page modified June 1, 2009 at 10:44 AM

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Two crashes snarl Interstate 5 traffic

A multiple car crash this morning during rush-hour traffic on southbound Interstate 5 at Northgate apparently led to a second, more serious crash in the northbound lanes when a motorcyclist struck an ambulance.

Seattle Times staff reporters

A motorcyclist who was heading north on Interstate 5 near Northgate this morning apparently became distracted by the commotion on the other side of the freeway as emergency workers dealt with the aftermath of three, near-simultaneous collisions that blocked southbound lanes for nearly two hours.

The 29-year-old Seattle man on the motorcycle "was watching the accident scene the entire time" and was illegally listening to music with ear buds stuck in each ear, said Washington State Trooper Cliff Pratt. "He wasn't paying attention" and slammed into the back of an ambulance that had parked in the northbound carpool lane, narrowly missing an EMT who had gone to her rig for medical supplies to treat patients involved in the earlier crashes, Pratt said.

He hit hard and though medics initially didn't think he'd survive, it appears his full-face helmet — which left a dent in the ambulance — saved his life, Pratt said.

"He's not as bad as we first thought," Pratt said. "He's definitely messed up but it looks like he's going to make it."

Southbound lanes were completely reopened by 8:30 a.m. and northbound lanes were cleared at 9:37 a.m., Pratt saidTraffic was tangled for miles in both directions starting about 6:40 a.m., when seven, southbound vehicles were involved in three separate collisions that caused one vehicle to roll onto its top and skid across into the carpool lane.

That accident caused only minor injuries, Pratt said, but southbound traffic was backed up during the morning's commute more than six miles, to Lynnwood.

The motorcyclist hit the ambulance shortly after that, "coming within inches of hitting" the EMT, who suffered only a small bruise to her hand, Pratt said.

The ambulance had "all its lights on," and had been stopped for about 15 minutes, Pratt said. The ambulance's crew was helping emergency personnel on the other side of the freeway when the motorcycle struck it.

Pratt said it's illegal for drivers to have headphones on or ear buds in both ears, though it's fine to drive with one ear bud so long as you can hear surrounding noises. The motorcyclist will likely be cited for inattention to driving, he said.

Lewis Kamb: 206-464-2341 or lkamb@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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