Indiana authorities say lake-effect snow causing whiteout conditions and a glazed-over highway were some of the factors contributing to a massive pileup on Interstate 94 in northwestern Indiana Thursday afternoon that killed three people and injured as many as 30 others.
According to the Associated Press, the pileup involved 46 vehicles, including 18 semitrailers, two pickup trucks and 26 cars. Responders spent hours removing victims from the mangled wreckage on an eastbound stretch of I-94 just east of Michigan City. I-94 runs along Lake Michigan in the Michigan City area and is the main highway connecting Milwaukee and Chicago to Detroit.
LaPorte County Coroner John Sullivan told the AP that the crash killed Jerry Dalrymple, 65, and his dog as they were driving from Chicago to LaPorte. Also killed were a husband and wife from Grand Rapids, Mich., Thomas Wolma, 67, and Marilyn Wolma, 65. The couple were driving home to Michigan from Wisconsin when the crash occurred.
Dozens of other motorists were taken to local hospitals for treatment of crash injuries. At least one of the injured was in critical condition. Rescuers said that a 48-year-old man who was on top of a car encased in semis for several hours was airlifted to a nearby hospital with critical injuries. All of the deceased died from crash-related blunt-force trauma.
The pileup stopped traffic for hours, stranding motorists in 10-degree temperatures. Buses were brought in to keep people warm as they waited for the wreckage to be cleared from the highway. The last vehicle, a semi, was pulled from the highway about 6 a.m. Friday morning, state police said.
According to the AP, the National Weather Service said that “a band of lake-effect snow was reported in the area at the time of the crash, dropping 1 to 2 inches of snow per hour and reducing visibility to a quarter mile or less – with some reports of visibility near zero.”
One witness who saw the crash occur just behind his vehicle told the AP that one of the semis started sliding and appeared to have jackknifed in the middle of the road, causing multiple other semis to lock up.
ABC News reported that the Indiana State Police said the snow was falling too fast for road crews to keep up, but authorities never considered shutting down the highway.