Poor visibility and road conditions believed to be factors in chain-reaction crash. Christian Farr reports.
Three people were killed and more than 20 injured Thursday in a chain reaction crash involving at least 45 vehicles that shut down Interstate 94 near Michigan City, Ind., authorities said.
One of the victims, 65-year-old Jerry Dalrymple, was from Chicago. His dog was also killed in the crash. The other two victims, 67-year-old Thomas Wolma and 65-year-old Marilyn Wolma, were from Grand Rapids, Mich., LaPorte County Coroner John Sullivan told NBC Chicago.
More than 20 others were injured, and there were at least five people who were trapped in their vehicles and needed to be extricated, officials said.
The 3 p.m. crash in the eastbound lanes of I-94 at mile marker 36 in LaPorte County involved 18 tractor-trailers, two trucks, and more than 20 passenger cars, vans and SUVs, Indiana State Police Sgt. Ann Wojas said Friday.
"It went from sunshine to complete no visibility, so when they entered in, it turned into slide off, crash, crash, and multiplied into what we have now," she said.
Wojas identified the critically injured victims as Jeffery Rennell, 48, from Ada, Mich., and Henry Imboden, 79, from Merrillville, Ind. Rennell, who had been airlifted after crews worked for three hours to free him from his vehicle, was treated and released from Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn on Friday afternoon.
Poor weather conditions were factors in the crash that shut down both directions of a 10-mile stretch of the interstate for several hours, officials said. The westbound lanes reopened hours later, but the eastbound lanes remained closed until just before 9:30 a.m. Friday as crews worked to remove the mangled mess of vehicles.
"It’s just a mess out there right now," Sullivan said.
St. Anthony's medical center in Michigan City received 13 crash victims over a three-hour period, most with a variety of contusions, bruises and minor fractures. Other crash victims went to Porter Regional Hospital in Valparaiso and Indiana University Health hospital in LaPorte.
Drivers stuck in the backup Thursday could only wait and try to stay warm as temperatures hovered around 10 degrees. Dixie Juchcinski, who talked to NBC Chicago in stand-still traffic about four miles from the crash, said the accident occurred in white-out conditions.
"When we first came to a stop, it was a complete white-out," Juchcinski said. "It was kind of a surprise to us because we could only see one or two cars in front of us."
Dominick Fontana and Tyler Cobb live two miles away from the accident scene and heard the vehicles crash from inside their homes.
"It sounded like a train coming off the rails," Fontana said.
Stacey Johnson, 37, had a family emergency and was traveling from western Michigan to Tennessee with her three sons, ages 3, 9 and 10. She told The Associated Press she'd researched road conditions before leaving because she was worried about the weather. She didn't know about the accident until traffic started crawling and then stopped.
Nearly five hours later, long after she'd planned to stop for dinner, her car was still sitting on the westbound side of highway. A woman in the car next to hers noticed she had children with her and offered cereal, popcorn and fruit to tide the family over.
Police said city buses were brought in to warm stranded motorists and transport the injured, though Johnson said she hadn't seen them. But she felt fortunate that she'd gotten gas before leaving Michigan.
"If it weren't for the fact that I have a full tank and a safe car, this could be a really dangerous situation," she said.
A band of heavy lake-effect snow was dropping up to 2 inches of snow per hour with visibility at a quarter-mile or less at the time of the wreck, National Weather Service meteorologist Evan Bentley said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.