4 semis involved in 2 crashes on I-96

An aerial photo of the crash on westbound I-96 west of the Clarksville exit on Sept. 3, 2014. (Photo courtesy: Ned Greenop)

BOSTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Two separate crashes involving four semi-trucks and a box truck shut down westbound I-96 near Clarksville for hours Wednesday and left one man with serious injuries.

The first crash happened around 9:25 a.m. near Nash Highway (Exit 59 to Clarksville), according to the Ionia County Sheriff’s Office. Authorities say the driver of a semi-truck had stopped due the traffic backup caused by construction at Alden Nash Avenue. The semi’s trailer was then struck by a box truck.

The driver of the box truck, 44-year-old Donald Burtnick of Grand Rapids, was hospitalized with minor injuries. The semi driver wasn’t hurt.

The second crash happened around 9:45 p.m. just west of Nash Highway, the sheriff’s office said. Authorities said a semi-truck slammed into the rear of another semi that was stopped for the construction backup.The aftermath of a crash on westbound I-96 near Nash Highway. (Sept. 3, 2014)

“He tried to stop, but just didn’t have time,” sheriff’s office Sgt. William Hoskins said.

The second semi was pushed forward into a third semi.

The first semi ended up in the median. Its driver — a 54-year-old from Ashville, N.C. — sustained life-threatening injuries, the sheriff’s office said, and was taken to a Grand Rapids hospital.

The aftermath of a crash on westbound I-96 near Nash Highway. (Sept. 3, 2014)The other two drivers were not hurt.

Westbound traffic was diverted off the highway for hours as police investigated. The highway reopened around 1:30 p.m.

The Michigan Department of Transportation says 33,000 vehicles travel the stretch of I-96 each day.

Tuesday, construction narrowed both the eastbound and westbound highway to one lane each. MDOT is asking drivers to use the zipper method to merge — a maneuver many are unfamiliar with. MDOT says the zipper merge did not cause the crashes and that it worked well in the eastbound lanes.

“Pay attention to the construction zone traffic. It’s stopping. And you just need to be aware of it,” Sgt. Hoskins warned drivers.

All lanes of I-96 are expected to reopen early Friday.

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