Man killed in I-94 crash was on way to visit retirement home
By STEFANO ESPOSITO and MAUDLYNE IHEJIRIKA Staff Reporters January 24, 2014 8:10AM
Updated: February 26, 2014 6:11AM
Deanna Dalrymple saw the images of the snowy devastation on Interstate 94 on her TV Thursday evening and knew she had reason to worry about her brother.
“They were giving the time, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, that was the time he would have been on the road,’” Dalrymple told the Chicago Sun-Times Friday.
Her worst fears were confirmed a little while later, when she learned her brother, Jerry Dalrymple, 66, of the 9000 block of South Bell in the Beverly neighborhood, had been killed in the huge pileup on I-94 in northwest Indiana.
The massive crash, which occurred about 2:30 p.m. some three miles east of Michigan City, left two others dead, and 22 injured — two critically.
Thomas Wolma, 67, and wife Marilyn, 65, of Grand Rapids, Mich., were returning home after taking care of a relative in Wisconsin when they were killed in the accident, LaPorte County coroner John Sullivan said, citing the couple’s son.
Critically injured were Henry Imboden, 79, of Merrillville, Ind., who was taken to Franciscan St. Anthony Health in Michigan City; and Jeffrey Rennell, 48, of Ada, Mich., who was flown by helicopter to Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, officials said.
One volunteer firefighter described the mile-long stretch of twisted wreckage as a scene that “will live with us forever.” Whiteout conditions were at least partly to blame, officials said at a Friday news conference, while noting that crews had plowed and salted the roadway just 20 minutes before the crash.
Deanna Dalrymple described her brother as a selfless man — a married father of four grown children — who was only a year or so away from retiring to his home in La Porte, Ind. In fact, he was on his way to check on that home with his dog, Sparky, when they both died, his sister said.
“He had it all set the way he wanted for his retirement,” his sister said, her voice choked with emotion. “It wasn’t meant to be. The good Lord has a different plan.”
Jerry Dalrymple and his wife, Mary, lived next door to his sister in Beverly.
He’d started out as a music teacher at schools on the South and North sides of the city, and played piano, drums and guitar, his sister said.
But when money was short, the music teacher was often the first to get cut, she said. So, Dalrymple followed a range of career paths after leaving teaching, working as an electronic printing professional before he died, his sister said.
He’d spent the last few weeks of his life helping his sister, who had been undergoing kidney dialysis.
“He was great, he was always there to help you,” his sister said. “He was a family man. He loved his wife.”
Pronounced dead on the scene, Jerry Dalrymple apparently died from blunt force trauma — as did the Wolmas, Sullivan said.
While weather conditions were bad Thursday, the slick road and white-out conditions hadn’t been severe enough to close the interstate, officials said.
“Our crews had been out there salting and plowing,” said Matt Deitchley, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation’s LaPorte district. “We had a full call-out of crews the entire day.”
Drivers on the interstate had faced heavy snow, strong winds and bitter temperatures, all of which contributed to the road conditions, officials said.
“We’re not here to establish the cause of the crash,” said Sgt. Ann Wojas, spokeswoman for the Indiana State Police.
That could take weeks, if not months, given the number of deaths, injuries and vehicles involved, officials said.
Indiana State Police received numerous calls about crashes and slide-offs before the first call came about the pile-up involving at least 46 vehicles, between mile-markers 35.5 and 36.5 in the eastbound lane, Wojas said.
I-94 eastbound did not reopen until 10:30 Friday morning, after cranes and wreckers worked through the night to help clear the scene of metal tangled so badly that it took up to three hours to remove all the injured, officials said.
Officials described a chaotic, almost unimaginable scene on which dozens of first responders, including state troopers from Michigan, descended.
There were casualties everywhere he looked, Chief Mick Pawlik of the Coolspring Township Volunteer Fire Department said, so he simply had to prioritize.
“It was such a devastating scene, you didn’t know where to start,” Pawlik said.
“When people are stuck in their cars, they look at you like we’re Moses — part the waters and save us,” he said. “We can’t show no fear or panic.”
Pawlik said he made it his job to keep trapped victims calm. He spoke of a woman named “Judy,” to whom he brought blankets. He told her: “I’m going to make you my priority. I’m going to get you out of here.”
Rescuers spent three hours extricating one of the critically injured, whose vehicle was “encased in semis,” Pawlik said. “I said, ‘Jeff, you’re making us work for our money tonight,” Pawlik recalled.
Photos of the scene showed at least a dozen semitrailers jammed together the width of the highway near an overpass, some passenger vehicles sandwiched in the wreckage.
“It was something I’ve never seen and never want to see again,” Pawlik said.
Indiana State Police said the accident involved 18 semitrailers.
Regarding the number of fatalities, Michigan City Mayor Ron Meer said: “It could have been a lot worse, because it was horrific out there.”
Visibility during the storm was practically nil, Dixie Juchcinski told WMAQ-TV.
“When we first came to a stop, it was a complete whiteout,” Juchcinski said. “It was kind of a surprise to us because we could only see one or two cars in front of us.”
It had been hard Thursday for experts to determine the storm’s direction or intensity, Lt. Jerry Williams, district commander for the state police, said.
“The rate the snow was coming in helped create that environment,” said Williams.
Drivers traveling at normal speeds suddenly hit a band of heavy snow and “couldn’t see each other as they came into this pass of road,” he said.
National Weather Service meteorologist Evan Bentley said heavy snow was reported in the area at the time of the crash. He said a band of lake-effect snow moved in late in the afternoon, dropping 1 to 2 inches of snow an hour and reducing visibility to a quarter-mile or less, with some reports of visibility near zero.
Luke Wilusz, the Associated Press and Post-Tribune correspondent Carrie Napoleon contributed to this report.