Greenwood: Chain-reaction crash dissected

Tom Greenwood
The Detroit News

The Michigan State Police has released its findings for the massive pileup that occurred on Interstate 94 near Paw Paw on Jan. 9 and the scope of the crash is astounding.

Speeding citations were issued to 12 drivers of commercial vehicles, and nine to passenger vehicles, in the EB lanes. In the WB lanes citations went to 18 truck drivers and 19 drivers of passenger vehicles.

"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, in a press release.

"As drivers, we are responsible for controlling our vehicles at all times, no matter the weather or roadway conditions."

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

Three drivers also received additional citations for driving without insurance, no driver's license and an invalid registration.

Officials decided to issue the citations after reviewing photographic and video evidence, as well as witness statements.

The chain-reaction crash involved a total of 133 vehicles (50 commercial and 83 passenger vehicles), killed a driver from Canada and injured 18 others from seven states.

The primary crash occurred at about 9:20 a.m. in the EB lanes during a heavy snowstorm. That's when a semitrailer rear-ended a van, causing the van to collide with a passenger car.

The van then pinballed into a guardrail on the south side of I-94 and ended up perpendicular to traffic in the right shoulder and right lane.

The passenger car ended up on the median side of EB I-94 after it struck a cable median barrier.

According to the MSP this set off a chain reaction on EB I-94 which ended up involving 60 vehicles (34 passenger vehicles and 26 commercial vehicles.

(This was the cause of the lone fatality when Jean Larocque's semi slammed into the back of a tractor-trailer vehicle hauler.)

Then — in what seemed like a scene out of a Hollywood movie — a tanker hauling 44,600 pounds of liquid formic acid overturned next to a semitrailer carrying 40,000 pounds of fireworks.

Both trucks, and the acid, caught on fire causing an evacuation of the immediate area as fireworks rocketed into the sky.

Three to five minutes after the EB crash, gawking motorists in the WB lanes began to lose control of their vehicles which started a pileup on their side of the freeway.

Overall, the crashes on EB and WB covered more than 1,400 feet of freeway.

The freeway was closed for two days while hundreds of vehicles were towed from the scene and to allow crews to clean up thousands of gallons of hazardous materials.

(313) 222-2023

Staff Writer Holly Fournier contributed.

I-75: In Detroit, only one lane is open NB and SB between Piquette Avenue and Ferry Street (under EB Interstate 94) between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. through Friday night for bridge repairs.

Additionally, the Clay Street ramp to SB I-75 is also closed.

I-75: In Detroit, a single lane is closed NB and SB under Woodward for M-1 Rail construction through June.

I-94/I-69: (Military/Huron): In Port Huron, the I-94 business loop NB and SB over the Black River is closed for bridge maintenance through March.

I-275: In New Boston, NB and SB at Huron River Drive will close for less than 15 minutes between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. Saturday for utility work.

U.S. 12: (Michigan): In Dearborn, there are daily single lane closures EB near Telegraph between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. through April 29 for utility work.

U.S. 24: (Telegraph): In Redford Township, there will be a daily single lane closure NB and SB near Fenkell between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. through Tuesday for utility work.

U.S 24: In Flat Rock, one lane NB and SB will be closed on a daily basis near Will Carlton/Gibraltar Road through 6 p.m. Tuesday for repairs to a pump station.

M-29: In St. Clair, the road is closed over the Pine River for bridge repairs through the end of March.

M-53:(Van Dyke): In Sterling Heights, the left lane NB and SB is closed between 14 Mile and 18 Mile through May 15. Additionally, one lane is blocked on 16 Mile in each direction at Van Dyke.

M-85 (Fort): In Dearborn, the bridge over the Rouge River is closed between Oakwood and Miller through spring.