Interstate 94 in Michigan expected to reopen Sunday

Ursula Watson, Tom Greenwood, Candice Williams and Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Galesburg, Mich. — The state police say both sides of Interstate 94 in southwestern Michigan may be opened by early Sunday morning.

Both sides of Interstate 94 in southwestern Michigan remain closed as crews remove acid and tow away vehicles stuck in an extraordinary pileup on the snowy highway.

"We're still doing cleanup of hazardous material. Crews are doing the final cleanup on the westbound side that maybe reopened in an hour or two," Lt. David Wood, of the Michigan State Police, said around 10 p.m. Saturday.

Wood said once the cleanup is completed, Michigan Department of Transportation crews need to inspect the roadway and determine what else may needs to be done before it is reopened.

At 12:12 a.m. Sunday, MDOT announced that westbound I-94 at M-37 at Exit 92 had reopened.

Most of the 193 vehicles including dozens of semis, involved in the pile up have been removed said Wood.

A trucker from Ottawa, Canada, was killed and about two dozen people were taken to hospitals.

Earlier Saturday, Lt. Dale Hinz says the work in Kalamazoo County has been "brutal," especially with temperatures barely above zero. A truck carrying fireworks caught fire, triggering a spectacular explosion of the cargo.

"Right in front of me the trucks started to go crazy. You couldn't see a single thing at the time of all the accidents. I was able to pull off and just watch semi after semi and semi and semi hit each other and cars hit each other. I mean people were going full speed ahead," Micah Stanislowski, who was involved in the crash, told WWMT (channel 3) in Battle Creek.

Meanwhile, one person died and another was critically injured in a crash involving 12 jackknifed semitrailers on southbound U.S. 23 near Willis Road, south of Ann Arbor, Michigan State Police said. And on Interstate 75 in Birch Run Township, near Flint, a man hauling scrap with a trailer was killed after his pickup left the freeway and struck a tree.

Michigan State Police Lt. Rick Pazder said the I-94 chain reaction crash occurred about 10:07 a.m. Friday between mile markers 88 and 92.

Police said Jean Larocque, a 57-year-old male trucker who worked for a Quebec company, died. Among the 22 injured were two firefighters hurt when the fireworks ignited. One suffered ruptured eardrums and the other an injured back, police said.

Four of the injured were taken to Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, where they were listed in good condition; six were transported to Bronson Battle Creek Hospital with minor injuries; and six were taken to Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo, where their conditions were unknown.

Non-injured drivers ensnared in the pileup were taken via bus to a local Galesburg school.

HAZMAT officials initially requested a three-mile evacuation radius at mile marker 90 on I-94, near the border of Kalamazoo and Calhoun counties. One of the semis involved in the accident contained 44,000 pounds of hazardous material. By 3 p.m Friday, officials said all material in question had burned off.

Pazder said it was too early in the investigation to determine the cause of the crash, but noted there was snowy weather and the roadway was icy.

"It's a terrible, terrible event," he said, adding 11 fire departments, nine medic companies and three police forces responded to the crash. "A lot of work goes into clearing up something like this."

According to the National Weather Service's Kalamazoo station, the weather at the time included heavy snow with visibility of a quarter mile. The temperature was 8 degrees, with a wind chill of minus 3 degrees.

"As I approached I realized that all the cars were stopped in front of me," said Heather Jackson. "I seen some in the ditch and I seen cars behind me coming at me at regular speed and I knew if I didn't go into the ditch I was going to be hit."

According to Erica Frederick of Kalamazoo, a witness, said she was eastbound on I-94 to take her dog to a veterinarian in Battle Creek when traffic came to a standstill.

"Traffic was moving at about 45 mph, and it was snowing heavily," Frederick she said. "I came around a curve, and traffic was stopped. I went from 45 to zero and ended up at a dead stop for at least an hour."

Frederick didn't know what was going on but then saw a big, black cloud of smoke over the freeway. "Then the radio said there had been a pileup and that one of the semis was full of fireworks and they were going off at the scene. People started getting out of their cars and walked toward the fire, which was maybe one-fourth ¼ mile away. I stayed in my car."

Liz Skrzypek of Canton Township and her husband, Jeff, were headed to Chicago on I-94 west Friday afternoon when they took a detour onto the business route I-94 to avoid the crash scene. She said they've seen a number of minor crashes and stranded vehicles on the roadways. "On the way, we saw a lot of cars off the road, several on the median and on the side of the road in ditches," she said. "It's weird because now it's sunny and the roads are clear. It keeps changing. You'll have white outs, then it'll be nice and then it'll be snowing again."

Fifteen cars were involved in the U.S. 23 crash early Friday afternoon just north of Milan, Michigan Police Sgt. Michael Sura said.

Sura said the crash remains under investigation, but "there were whiteout conditions."

Around 1 p.m., "there was a solid sheet of ice with drifts," said Scott Hall of Milan, who works at the BP gas station on Willis. "With the blowing of the snow... you can't see."

A second crash in Washtenaw County tangled traffic on U.S. 23 from Willow Road to the Monroe County line.

Detroit News Staff Writers Mark Hicks and Derek Draplin and the Associated Press contributed.