I-94 crashes blamed on whiteout, ice, speed

Paw Paw, I-94, pileup
The scene of a pileup on westbound I-94 near Paw Paw on Dec. 31, 2017.

MATTAWAN, Mich. (WOOD) — A series of crashes and pileups involving dozens of vehicles shut down a stretch of westbound I-94 between Kalamazoo and Lawrence Sunday afternoon.

Michigan State Police said the crashes happened along a 20-mile stretch between exit 72 to 9th Street in Texas Township and exit 52 to County Road 365 at Lawrence.

MSP said it could take several days to figure out precisely how many cars were involved, but initial reports put the number between 20 and 50. Pileups involved clusters of between 10 and 15 vehicles each.

There were several injuries, but none were serious.

The westbound lanes of I-94 were shut down for about more than three hours and traffic was being directed off the highway in Mattawan. The highway reopened shortly before 4 p.m. after emergency crews cleared the scene.

‘Vehicles just driving too fast for conditions,” 1st Lt. Dale Hinz, the commander of MSP’s Paw Paw Post, told 24 Hour News 8. “We had some whiteout conditions at the time and then slippery roadway conditions as well.

“When the temperature is as cold as it is today, there’s always black ice,” Hinz added. “These vehicles that are driving out here right now are driving way too fast for what’s out there. There’s several patches of black ice out there right now. Just because the roadway looks like it’s only wet, it typically has patches of black ice and it can have devastating results like we’ve seen this afternoon.”

Hinz noted scenes like Sunday’s — where the roads are bad, visibility is poor and the crashes keep happening — are particularly dangerous for first responders.

“It’s up to us, the drivers that know what lake-effect snow driving is all about, to set the tone and the set the pace out here on I-94,” Hinz said. “We get people from all over the country driving this stretch on I-94 and they are not familiar with driving in these types of conditions.”

Van Buren County Sheriff Dan Abbott told 24 Hour News 8 that the county’s emergency operations center was activated. He said buses were brought in by the Red Cross to aid stranded drivers.

–24 Hour News 8’s Sarah Hurwitz contributed to this report.

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