Skip to comments.25 Vehicles in fiery, fatal I-43 crash (Sheboygan, WI)
Posted on 10/11/2002 8:36:31 AM PDT by PLOM...NOT!
Cedar Grove - More than two dozen vehicles were involved in a deadly, fiery crash on a foggy interstate highway Friday morning, the Wisconsin State Patrol says.
Sheboygan County Sheriff's Capt. Dave Adams said there were fatalities in the accident, but it was too early to know how many.
Authorities had no immediate word on other injuries. Sheriff's authorities closed parts of Interstate 43 near the Sheboygan-Ozaukee county line after the 7:30 a.m. accident.
The accident involved at least 25 vehicles in both the southbound and northbound lanes, according to the State Patrol.
At least eight vehicles were on fire, Sheboygan County Sheriff's Captain Dave Adams said. "It's very chaotic out there," he said. "It's very foggy. We had 25 EMS, fire and sheriff's vehicles at the scene.... The first calls on the accident came in at about 8:05 a.m."
There was a heavy fog but Adams said it has not been determined if that was the cause of the accident.
Bonnie Depies, who works at a Citgo gas station about a mile from the crash scene, said fire departments had put out the fires by midmorning.
"It was very foggy when I got to work this morning, but you could see black smoke through the fog," she said.
Workers at the service station can normally see vehicles' lights on the highway in the early morning, but fog obstructed those lights Friday, Depies said.
Adams said I-43 was closed from the Ozaukee County line north to Sheboygan and would likely be shut down for at least eight hours.
Authorities told three area hospitals to prepare to treat victims. More than six miles from the I-43 crash, in the Town of Belgium, two students were hurt after their car collided with a semi-tractor trailer at 7:46 a.m. Friday near Highway KW and Silver Beach Road, according to the Ozaukee County Sheriff's Department.
"We don't know the extent of their injuries, and we don't know for sure if this is related to the other accident," said a sheriff's department spokeswoman who did not want to give her name. However, Highway KW runs parallel to I-43 and traffic from the interstate crash may have diverted onto that highway.
The semi driver was not hurt, the spokeswoman said.
The cause of the crash was unknown.
We had a similar accident in Green Bay about 10 years ago up on the Tower Drive bridge which had a few fatalities and a major pile-up. This one is being described as the worst of its' kind ever in Wisconsin.
Fiery I-43 pileup kills at least 5
Cedar Grove - About 25 vehicles crashed in heavy fog on I-43 near the Sheboygan-Ozaukee county line this morning before exploding in fire. At least five people were killed and dozens were rushed to area hospitals, authorities said.
At a news briefing at the scene, Sgt. John Jones of the state highway patrol said it could take hours to sort through the wreckage and identify all the bodies and vehicles.
He said some cars are stacked on other cars, and some cars are wedged underneath a semi-tractor trailer. Some cars, he said, cannot even be identified by make or model.
Jones said the accident apparently began when two vehicles struck each other in the southbound lanes. Those vehicles, he said, may have been trying to get off the highway when other vehicles became involved, many traveling too fast for the foggy conditions.
"This isn't one crash," he said. "This is a series of crashes that continued to occur over time. We haven't even located all the victims here yet."
Sheriff's authorities closed parts of Interstate 43 near the Sheboygan-Ozaukee county line after the 7:30 a.m. crash.
Several victims were being taken to Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital by Flight to Life. St. Mary's Hospital in Ozaukee County said it was treating 11 people, all in stable condition.
Several witnesses blamed the accident on fog.
"It was a complete whiteout," said Larry Freitag, a truck driver for Piggly Wiggly who witnessed the accident, which happened in front of him.
Freitag said he saw the boom of a CableVision truck flip into the air. He later saw the burned wreckage of that truck.
Another truck, a vehicle from Short Transportation, was burning when Freitag tried to rescue the driver. He couldn't get close.
"Flames shot out and I had to back off," he said, adding that he never saw anyone emerge from the truck.
A dump truck was also involved in the accident, according to Freitag.
"I'm glad to be out of there," he said.
Three employees of a Kewaunee company, enroute to a job at the Milwaukee County War Memorial, escaped the accident mostly unscathed, said Jerry Jerabek, their general manager at Insulators Inc.
Jerabek declined to name this morning but said the men attributed the pileup , in which they were hit at least five times, to dense fog.
"They said everything was fine. Then all of a sudden it was a wall of fog and you couldn't see anything," he said.
Another truck driver, Jim Lawson with Jelco Transportation based in Manhattan, Ill., said visibility was bad at best.
"I could see a little beyond this," he said, patting the hood ornament on his truck.
Lawson, a trucker for 36 years, had just unloaded a shipment in Two Rivers and was headed to the truck stop at Hobo's in Belgium for breakfast and a shower. He said people were standing on the highway waving down motorists when he came upon the scene.
Seth Schwochert, a driver for Sheboygan Beverage, also saw people on the highway.
"People were out of their cars, which was one of the dumbest things you can do," said Schwochert, who was driving a Miller Lite truck.
Schwochert said he saw the fire from the crash first, and heard "bang, bang, bang," presumably from more cars adding to the pile of twisted metal. At the same time, he heard more crashes from behind him and explosions in front of him.
Donna Van Rossum heard the same "bang, bang, bang" sounds.
Rossum was writing in her journal when she heard the crash. She looked at the dashboard. It was 7:24 a.m.
Van Rossum and her husband, Ted, were on their way to Pennsylvania to pick up a 1957 Chevy, the first classic car the Suamico couple had purchased.
Ted Van Rossum, a former Brown County Sheriff's Deputy, said the crash reminded him of a 50 car pile up on Tower Drive Bridge in Green Bay more than 10 years ago. Smoke from a nearby paper mill was blamed for that crash.
Larry Demeny of Luxemberg no doubt felt similarly after a van involved in the crash flipped over in front of him. Demeny, who was on his way to a doctor's appointment in Milwaukee, wound up in a ditch after swerving to avoid other cars.
Mike Hausmer stopped his car to avoid hitting people who littered the highway as they pleaded for help.
Hausmer, a drywaller, was driving from Sheboygan to a job in Jackson. He heard crashes behind him as he stopped, but thought better of getting out of his vehicle.
"I felt better off staying in the truck," he said.
Reporting from Dan Benson, Marilynn Marchione and Greg Borowski of the Journal Sentinel staff, and from the Associate Press, was used in this report.