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63 drivers cited after big Michigan freeway pileup

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Galesburg — Citations will be issued to 63 drivers involved in a massive pileup in January on snowy Interstate 94 that killed a truck driver and caused fireworks to ignite over the expressway, police said.

On Thursday Michigan State Police announced the results of their investigation into the Jan. 9 chain-reaction crashes involving 193 vehicles on both sides of the expressway near Galesburg.

The interstate was closed for two days while crews removed damaged vehicles and hazardous materials from the roadway.

"The primary cause was determined to be drivers traveling too fast for the roadway conditions," police said in a press release.

Michigan law requires drivers to travel "at a careful and prudent speed" based on road conditions.

Most of citations will be issued to drivers who violated that law, while three drivers were found to be driving without insurance, one was without an operator's license and one lacked a proper registration plate, police said.

The citations are being mailed or delivered beginning Thursday.

Officials decided to issue the citations after careful review of photographic and video evidence, as well as witness statements, police said.

The pileup began around 9:20 a.m. in the eastbound lanes when a semitruck rear-ended a van, starting a chain reaction of crashes during heavy snowfall, police said.

Jean Larocque, a 57-year-old Canadian truck driver, was killed in the eastbound lanes when he drove into the back of a tractor trailer hauling vehicles, police said.

In total, 60 vehicles were involved in the eastbound crashes, including a tanker hauling 44,600 pounds of liquid formic acid that overturned next to a semitruck carrying 40,000 pounds of fireworks.

The trucks and formic acid caught fire, leading to an evacuation order, police said.

Moments after the eastbound crashes began, drivers traveling westbound became distracted by the pileup and lost control of their vehicles, police said. A total of 133 vehicles crashed in the westbound lanes.

The entire crash scene spanned approximately 1,400 feet, police said.

"This crash is a vivid illustration of the dangers of traveling too fast on icy and snowy roads," said F/Lt. Dale Hinz, MSP Paw Paw Post Commander. "As drivers, we are responsible for controlling our vehicles at all times, no matter the weather or roadway conditions."

Eighteen drivers from seven states and Canada were treated for injuries, police said. Five emergency services workers also received treatment for minor injuries sustained at the scene.

Due to the large number of commercial vehicles involved, the Michigan Truck Safety Commission and its Canadian counterpart will work with state police to raise awareness among commercial drivers to prevent similar crashes in the future, police said.

Of the 193 vehicles involved in the crashes, 76 were commercial vehicles.

According to crash data analysis by the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, there were 226 fatalities statewide from 2009-2013 due to crashes where the driver was traveling too fast in wintery conditions, police said. During the same period, there were 6,515 injuries reported under the same conditions.

HFournier@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4616