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Freezing rain, snow in Okla. blamed for 3 deaths

By Ken Miller

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Jan. 20 2011 7:55 p.m. MST

OKLAHOMA CITY — A winter storm brought freezing rain and snow to Oklahoma on Thursday and was blamed for at least three traffic deaths and several injuries.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol reported that Jackie W. Bean, 70, died after his pickup truck went off an icy U.S. 70 in Marshall County in southern Oklahoma and rolled, throwing Bean out of the vehicle about 8:20 a.m.

Less than an hour earlier, Jerry Gagnon, 47, of Overbrook died when the sport utility vehicle he was driving skidded off U.S. 77 near Ardmore and overturned.

Michael Todd Buffham, 37, also was killed about 3:15 a.m. when the tractor-trailer rig he was driving went off U.S. 283 and overturned near Cheyenne in western Oklahoma.

Numerous minor accidents were reported in Oklahoma City, in addition to people falling on icy sidewalks, causing head injuries, hip fractures and broken bones, but no life-threatening injuries, according Emergency Medical Services Authority spokeswoman Lara O'Leary.

"All things considered, paramedics have had a manageable time," O'Leary said. "The only problem that we've encountered is paramedics trying to navigate down streets, going through stoplights with their emergency lights on, but motorists are afraid to yield to us, apparently because they're afraid of running off the road."

In Tulsa, only minor injuries were reported, said EMSA spokesman Chris Stevens.

Schools in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas were closed because of the weather, as were the University of Oklahoma in Norman and Oklahoma State University's Oklahoma City campus.

The storm moved rapidly across the Midwest, with the freezing rain changing to snow over Oklahoma, according to meteorologist Pete Snyder with the National Weather Service office in Tulsa. Most affected areas got 2 to 3 inches of snow, with the hardest-hit spots such as the Pawhuska area, seeing more than 4 inches, Snyder said.

Temperatures were expected to remain below freezing throughout the day, although skies had become partly sunny by early afternoon in the wake of the storm. Winter weather advisories that had been issued through Thursday afternoon were canceled by the weather service ahead of schedule.

"By Saturday, we'll see temperatures rise into the 40s, the lower 40s anyway. As for tomorrow (Friday), highs will be in the lower 30s, but we'll see some sun," Snyder said.

Oklahoma Gas and Electric had restored power to all of its customers by late Thursday afternoon after reporting more than 3,600 outages earlier in the day. Public Service Company of Oklahoma, which reported about 2,000 outages early Thursday, had about 100 outages in Lawton in southwestern Oklahoma late Thursday afternoon.

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