MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. (AP/WOOD) —Two of three people killed in a massive pileup on I-94 near Michigan City, Ind. were from Grand Rapids, Mich., and one of the many injured victims is from Ada, Mich.
The couple were traveling home from Wisconsin after caring for a relative. Marilyn Wolma started as a substitute teacher in 1988 and then became a temporary teacher at Shawnee and Shawmut schools, then full-time at Buchanan Elementary School, and then Sibley Elementary School. She retired in June 2008 and had been substitute teaching at Sibley Elementary School most recently, Grand Rapids Public Schools spokesman John Helmholdt told 24 Hour News 8.
Jerry Dalrymple, 65, from Chicago, was pronounced dead at the scene. His Golden Retriever also
died in the accident.
The victims died from blunt force trauma, LaPorte County (Ind.) Coroner John Sullivan said.
Henry Imboden of Merrillville, Ind. was critically injured, according to the Associated Press. An update on his condition is unknown.
Twenty other people were hurt, including 48-year-old Jeffrey Rennell from Ada, authorities said Friday morning during a news conference. He has since been released from a Chicago-area hospital, 24 Hour News 8 has learned from family members.
Chief Mick Pawlik from the Coolspring Township (Ind.) Fire Department helped extricate Rennell from his vehicle.
“I got to know another man out there. His name was Jeff. This was the worst scenario we had out there. …I think it took us about two hours to get him out. I kept apologizing to him. I said, ‘Jeff, you’re making us work for our money tonight,’ just to make humor to get his mind off of where he was and what was going on. You try to make the scene easier. It’s hard, but people look at you to save them,” Pawlik said at Friday morning’s news conference.
Rennell was the last victim to be removed from the scene.
Forty-six vehicles, including 18 semitrailers, collided around 3 p.m. local time Thursday in the eastbound lanes at mile marker 36, amid whiteout conditions.
Photos of the scene showed semitrailers and mangled, passenger vehicles jammed together the width of the highway near an overpass. Some passenger vehicles were sandwiched in the wreckage.
Sullivan described the scene as “pitiful to look at.” He also said that the first responders did a “great job.”
I-94 is the main highway heading east from Chicago to Michigan and Indiana, and the main thoroughfare between the nation’s third-largest city and Detroit.
The crash closed both sides of the highway, and traffic was backed up for hours. The westbound lanes were eventually reopened, but the eastbound lanes remain closed. for 20 hours reopened around noon ET.
National Weather Service meteorologist Evan Bentley said a band of heavy 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.
Scott Collins, 17, of Chesterton, Ind., was riding in a car with three other teens and saw the crash happen just behind them.
“One of the semis started sliding and I think it jackknifed in the middle of the road” and collided with another semi, he said. “After that happened, multiple semis locked up.”
He said a box truck got stuck on a guardrail and nearly went over into a waterway.
“We were pretty nervous,” he said.
Franciscan St. Anthony Health had received at least 10 patients, hospital president Dr. Jim Callaghan said. Six people from the accident were taken to IU Health LaPorte Hospital in LaPorte, a nursing supervisor there said. Porter Regional Hospital in Valparaiso also received patients, Wojas said.
Drivers stuck in the backup could only wait and try to stay warm as temperatures hovered around 10 degrees.
Stacey Johnson, 37, had a family emergency and was traveling from West 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.