At least 3 dead in pileup on I-94 near Michigan City
Post-Tribune staff and wire January 23, 2014 3:30PM
Updated: January 24, 2014 10:51AM
MICHIGAN CITY — Forty-six vehicles, including 18 semitrailers, collided Thursday amid whiteout conditions in a massive highway pileup that left three people dead and more than 20 others injured — two critically — on Interstate 94.
The accident occurred around 3:30 p.m. Thursday about three miles east of the Michigan City exit at the 37 mile marker.
The victims include Jerry Dalrymple, 66, of Chicago, LaPorte County coroner John Sullivan said. Dalrymple’s dog, Sparky, was also killed in the crash.
Also killed were Thomas Wolma, 67, and his 65-year-old wife, Marilyn, Sullivan said early Friday. The Wolmas, of Grand Rapids, Mich., were returning home after taking care of a relative in Wisconsin when they were caught up in the massive crash, Sullivan said, citing the couple’s son.
Critically injured were Henry Imboden, 79, of Merrillville, who was taken to Franciscan St. Anthony Health in Michigan City, and Jeffrey Rennell, 48, of Ada, Mich., whose extrication took three hours. He was flown by U-CAN helicopter to Christ Advocate Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill. Their conditions are not immediately known.
Scott Collins, 17, of Chesterton, 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.
Photos of the scene showed tractor-trailer rigs jammed together the width of the highway near an overpass. Some passenger vehicles cars were sandwiched in the wreckage.
Twenty-three people were hurt and taken to local hospitals, Indiana State Police Lt. Peter Wood said. One was flown to an area hospital after being cut from the wreckage as temperatures dropped into the single digits.
Sarah Jones, nursing director for Franciscan St. Anthony Health in Michigan City, said one patient was dead on arrival and a second patient died shortly after arriving at the hospital. A third person was in critical condition, she said.
In LaPorte, six people from the accident were taken to IU Health LaPorte Hospital, a nursing supervisor there said. Porter Regional Hospital also received patients, according to Indiana State Police Sgt. Ann Wojas.
Dixie Juchcinski told WMAQ-TV the snow was blinding at the time of the accident.
“When we first came to a stop, it was a complete whiteout,” Juchcinski said. “We could only see one or two cars in front of us.”
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.
After confirming two deaths in the hours after the crash, the coroner said he feared the death toll could rise because cars were trapped under semitrailers and hadn’t been searched.
“It’s looking grim. There may be many more fatalities,” Sullivan told WLS-TV in Chicago. “The clock is working against us.”
Post-Tribune correspondent Carrie Napoleon, Sun-Times Media and The Associated Press contributed to this report.