Roughly 150 vehicles were involved in a chain-reaction crash that left at least one dead on Interstate 94 between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek late Friday morning. The crash also included a truck that had its load of fireworks ignited, shutting down the freeway in both directions.
HAZMAT officials initially requested a 3-mile evacuation radius at mile marker 90 on Interstate 94, near the border of Kalamazoo and Calhoun counties. By 1:10 p.m Friday, officials believed that all material in question had burned off. Police said at 1:30 p.m. that it is estimated the freeway will be shut down for another 12 hours.
According to Michigan State Police Lt. Rick Pazder, the chain reaction crash occurred about 10:07 a.m. Friday on I-94 between mile markers 88 and 92.
A trucker from Ottawa, Canada, died, and an unknown number of people are injured, he said.
“There is at least one fatality, and we have two vehicles that are on fire, including a semi,” Pazder said. “There are vehicles in the median and the freeway is closed in both directions.”
Pazder said it was too early in the investigation to determine the cause of the crash, but noted the weather was snowing and the freeway was icy.
“We are being assisted by the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Department and other local agencies,” he said.
According to the National Weather Service’s Kalamazoo station, the weather at the time of the crash included heavy snow with visibility of ¼ mile. The temperature was 8 degrees with a wind chill of minus 3 degrees.
According to Erica Frederick of Kalamazoo, a witness, one truck was carrying fireworks, “which are now burning and launching at the scene.”
Frederick said a bus was brought in to take away survivors from the crash scene.
Frederick was eastbound on I-94 to take her dog to see a veterinarian in Battle Creek when traffic came to a standstill.
“Traffic was moving at about 45 mph, and it was snowing heavily,” Frederick said. “I came around a curve, and traffic was stopped. I went from 45 to zero and ended up at a dead stop for at least an hour.”
Frederick didn’t know what was going on but then saw a big, black cloud of smoke over the freeway.
“Then the radio said there had been a pileup and that one of the semis was full of fireworks and they were going off at the scene. People started getting out of their cars and walked toward the fire, which was maybe ¼ mile away. I stayed in my car.”
Then the first responders started to show up.
“I saw EMS vehicles arriving the whole time I was stopped,” Frederick said. “Then they brought in a bus, and I could see survivors being helped onto the bus. They had blankets wrapped around them.”
After about an hour police began to move cars and trucks off the freeway, allowing vehicles to use the “authorized vehicles only” turnarounds to divert traffic.
“They had semis backing up and then using the turnaround,” Frederick said.”They finally got to me, and I headed back toward Kalamazoo.”
Snow and ice-covered roads are blamed for numerous crashes around Michigan and many schools across the state are closed.
Kalamazoo College closed on Friday along with hundreds of elementary, middle and high schools. Some districts that shut for the day included Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Saginaw and Traverse City. Some Kalamazoo-area schools were closed for the third consecutive day.
Grand Valley State University and Grand Rapids Community College also closed.
Four jack-knifed semi-trucks also closed southbound U.S. 23 near Willis Road Friday afternoon, according to the Michigan State Police. Multiple units were on the scene of the crash that occurred just north of Milan.
On Jan. 23, 2014, three people were killed, and more than 20 others injured, in a massive 46-vehicle crash near Michigan City, Ind., about 30 miles outside of Chicago.
The smash-up involved two box trucks and 18 semis and occurred during whiteout conditions. Among the three victims were Thomas Wolma, 67, and his wife, Marilyn, 65, of Grand Rapids. The third victim was Jerry Dalrymple, 65, of Chicago, who died along with his dog.
The pileup is also reminiscent of a 30-car and truck chain reaction that occurred on Jan. 13, 2013, on Interstate 75 in Detroit that killed three people, including a 7-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl, and sent 13 others to the hospital.
That multi-vehicle crash occurred on I-75 on the southwest side of the city, causing trucks to jackknife and send cars into the median. Rescue personnel frantically searched vehicles for the dead and dying.
Rapidly changing weather conditions was the cause of the crash, according to Lt. Michael Shaw, who said driving conditions went from “clear to total whiteout in just a few seconds.”