Light Rain Blamed for Rash of Crashes, Graduation Delay : Weather: Authorities report injuries in 36 accidents, but no fatalities, and backed-up freeways.


Just six days before the official first day of summer, a winter-like storm drizzled into the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys Thursday, causing a rash of car accidents and forcing postponement of the Burbank High School graduation ceremony.

There were 36 accidents in which people were injured on local freeways between 2 and 6 p.m., according to the California Highway Patrol, and numerous fender-benders that brought some freeways to a standstill. No one was killed in the collisions, authorities said.

At Burbank High School, administrators scrambled to find a place to hold graduation ceremonies after the dirt parking lot of the scheduled site, the Starlight Bowl, became too muddy to use. They decided to reschedule ceremonies for today in the school's indoor auditorium.

"We are going to have to have a split graduation for the students," with half the class graduating at 4 in the afternoon and the remainder at 6:30 at night, said senior class adviser Chris Krohn. A reception will be held elsewhere in the school building "where hopefully we can [televise] the other graduation so students can see their friends graduate," she said.

The storm that caused all these difficulties formed over the Gulf of Alaska and gathered strength as it rode the jet stream down the West Coast.

It left nearly a foot of snow in the High Sierra and hail in Fresno, but only .13 inches of rain in the Los Angeles area.

The rain was expected to taper off by early today, said meteorologist Steve Maneikis of WeatherData, which provides forecasts for The Times. But the cloudy skies will remain until the sun reappears sometime Saturday. Sunday is expected to be sunny, he said.

Summer will officially begin on the summer solstice Wednesday.

A chain of small accidents on the Golden State Freeway in the Newhall Pass area backed up traffic for several miles. Officials said the accidents, which started about 3 p.m., were widely spaced and often caused by drivers braking to avoid collisions ahead of them.

"We spotted about seven of them coming up here," said Firefighter Fred Ruiz of the Los Angeles Fire Department. "They were basically just fender-benders and spin-outs."

Andrea Hardy, 19, of Ventura, said she was trying to adjust to other traffic that was slowing on the slick road, lost control and spun into the center divider.

"I was next to a big semi truck and I couldn't see anything, so I braked and I started hydroplaning," she said.

Several other cars up to a quarter mile behind her hit the divider or other vehicles as they tried to adjust to the traffic slowdown.

Jerry VanWormer, 57, of Castaic, said his pickup truck was rear-ended by a van while he was trying to slow down.

"I started to brake and then 'Boom!' " he said.

At the same time, a few miles south on the Golden State Freeway, two semi-trailer trucks overturned in separate accidents just south of the Roxford Street exit. The two trucks, both on their sides, kept the southbound truck route lanes closed until late Thursday, according to CHP Officer Karen Faciane.

The driver of one of the trucks was seriously injured and taken to Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills. The other trucker was not injured, Faciane said.

A half hour later in Burbank, the northbound lanes of the Golden State freeway were clogged for five miles near the Ventura Freeway interchange when a motorist collided with a big truck and ended up stuck beneath it, Faciane said.

The driver told the officers that he couldn't stop in the rain, an officer said at the scene.

DeSantis is a Times staff writer and Sabbatini is a Times correspondent.

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