Ada man trapped for hours on I-94

Jeff Rennell. (Jan. 24, 2014)
Jeff Rennell. (Jan. 24, 2014)

ADA, Mich. (WOOD) — In the hours he sat wedged in what was left of his Ford Explorer along a crash-strewn portion of I-94 in northern Indiana, Jeff Rennell never doubted he’d get out alive.

“No, I never did,” Rennell told 24 Hour News 8 soon after arriving home in Ada from the hospital Friday afternoon.

He was headed home from Chicago Thursday and was near Michigan City. The snow was falling.

“The roads weren’t horrible,” he said. “But snow came across the roads and by the time it cleared, there was a jackknifed semi-truck,” he said.

But the truck was 200 yards ahead. Rennell didn’t panic because he figured he had plenty of time to stop.

“But I put the brake on and it was black ice, and I sped up when I put my brake on,” Rennell recalled.

The SUV came to the stop only when it impacted with the jackknifed semi. The front was wedged under the saddle tanks on the semi’s tractor. The passenger’s side was crushed in all the way to the center console.

“The semi-truck radiator was here,” Rennell described, holding his hands inches from his face.

Fortunately,  Rennell’s injuries weren’t very severe.

The question at that point was how he was going to get out.

“If you saw where I was in that car, it’s- it’s miraculous,” Rennell said.

Enter the first responders. For hours  in freezing conditions they worked, peeling away the semi and Rennell’s SUV like an onion.

“They all were just awesome,” Rennell said. “There was 15 guys trying to get me out of that car for three hours. And they said, ‘We’re are not leaving tonight ’til you get out of this car. We’re going to get you out of this car.’”

Several hours later, Rennell was finally free. With a total of 46 vehicles involved in the wreck — 18 of them semi-trucks — he was the very last person to be pulled from his vehicle.

In this photo provided by the Indiana State Police, emergency crews work at the scene of a massive pileup involving about 15 semitrailers and about 15 passenger vehicles and pickup trucks along Interstate 94 Thursday afternoon, Jan. 23, 2014 near Michigan City, Ind. At least three were killed and more than 20 people were injured. (AP Photo/Indiana State Police)
(AP Photo/Indiana State Police)

He sustained a hairline fracture to his leg, a broken ankle, a scratch on the head, the beginnings of hypothermia and he has a lot of aching muscles. But he’s alive.

It’s the kind of event that might change someone life.

But not Jeff Rennell.

“I’ve always focused on my family and my kids and my wife because life is so short  and so precious. And I’m going be the same person I was  going into this accident as I was coming out,” he said.

Rennell said he will return to northwest Indiana once he’s up and around. He promised the local fire chief and his crew he’d buy them a beer.

Inside woodtv.com: I-94 pileup victims ‘wonderful’

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