All I-74 lanes open after massive 40-car pileup

Posted at 11:07 AM, Jan 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-12 22:42:05-05

DEARBORN COUNTY, Ind. -- "The trucks just kept coming."

That's how one motorist described the more than 40-vehicle pileup on WB I-74 near the Indiana-Ohio state line Tuesday morning.

According to the Indiana State Highway Patrol, the crash began with one jackknifed semi-truck and quickly escalated due to a snow squall around 11 a.m. The massive wreckage resembled a junkyard and shut down I-74 in both directions until nightfall, but the ISP said there were no life-threatening injuries. Six people were transported to hospitals.

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The pileup was a combination of two crashes, patrolmen said, beginning with 28 vehicles and ending with a total of 40.

Eastbound lanes reopened just after 5 p.m., but westbound drivers had to wait until almost 8 p.m. for tow trucks to clear the last wrecked vehicle.

Sean Selman was driving westbound from Cincinnati when he said he encountered the crash unfolding before his eyes. 

"I came up onto a pile of semis in the middle of the road," Selman told WCPO. "I veered off in the median to miss them, hit one of the trucks. As soon as I hopped out, semis just kept coming and slamming into the pile. There were cars trapped under where they were hitting.

"The trucks just kept coming, they kept slamming, so I ran out on the road to try and slow everyone down," he said.

Selman described how he and a few other motorists acted quickly to direct emergency vehicles into the pileup and even attempted to talk to some of the other drivers who were pinned in their vehicles.

"There was a trucker that was pinned pretty bad, but we were talking to him," he said. "I crawled under the next trailer, and there was a car underneath that -- started talking to him."

David Pickrell was also driving along the interstate, along what he described as the front of the pileup. He said he was impressed at how well motorists kept their composure.

"Soon as everything slowed down enough, we got out, started rendering first aid where we could," Pickrell said. "Everybody reached in their cars, helped everybody else out. Nobody panicked, nobody freaked out."

According to 9 First Warning Meteorologist Jennifer Ketchmark, a snow squall is like the leading edge of a thunderstorm. It's quick, it's intense and the winds are high. The difference is, it's snow. Instead of having wet roads, you now have snow covered roads, horrendous visibility and crashes. Tuesday's snow squalls were moving at 50 mph.

Selman described it as a "wall of snow."

"The roads were covered, people were going fast, I can't believe it," he said. "At least where we were at, nobody was killed."

Pickrell had a similar memory of the storm: "There was no visibility, and then it hit like lightning."

Indiana State Police Sgt. Stephen Wheeles said such a massive pileup isn't common, but isn't unheard of during weather like Tuesday morning's.

"When these chain-reaction type crashes happen, that's often what causes them," Wheeles said. "People lose visibility and then they start slowing down."

The crash started on WB I-74 near the Indiana state line and weigh scales, Dearborn County deputies said.