Foggy pileups kill 2, involve more than 100 vehicles near Madison
But as he drove north, the mist set in. As he drew near Madison on Interstate 90 he could barely see. Suddenly, a semi-trailer materialized out of the fog, 20 feet ahead of him.
“Oh my god!” Robertson cried out. He slammed on his brakes and swerved into a ditch.
He was about to be rear-ended by speeding cars so he bailed out and fled down the embankment. From there he watched as another semi-trailer slid by and jack-knifed into a car.
Robertson was among scores of people who endured a murky nightmare on I-90 Sunday, when more than 100 cars and semi-trailers plowed into each other. The string of crashes left two dead and at least 50 injured, including three with life-threatening injuries.
The Wisconsin State Patrol shut down Interstate 90 in both directions, causing a traffic backup for miles. The interstate reopened early Monday.
The preliminary investigation shows that some motorists were traveling at least 70 mph – above the 65 mph speed limit, said Wisconsin State Patrol Lt. Laurie Steeber said. Steeber said with the conditions, people should have slowed down.
“When there’s snow, there’s ice, there’s fog. The speed limit is too fast,” Steeber said.
She said it was too early to say whether any charges or citations would be filed.
The accidents happened on a five-mile stretch of Interstate 90 in both directions just southeast of Madison.
Around 2:30 p.m., cars began braking when they hit a wall of fog near Interstate 90’s intersection with U.S. Highway 12/18, Steeber said. A semi-truck came up behind them and began plowing into vehicles, she said. One person was killed.
A similar pileup happened three miles away when another group of vehicles on the interstate also began braking in fog, Steeber said. A second person was killed in that pileup.
Motorists described pieces of cars all over the interstate and demolished vehicles on the shoulders and in ditches.
“One of my sergeants described it as a war scene,” Steeber said.
In all there were at least seven pileups, with the two biggest involving 25 and 26 vehicles.
Authorities transported 150 people, including Robertson, to the nearby Wingate Inn. Motorists filed into the hotel off city buses, clutching their children and belongings, looks of astonishment on their faces.
“There were some major blessings out there,” said Robertson, 41, of Mt. Horeb. “It could have been much worse.”
Among the lucky were Erik Kispert, 23, his brother, Isak Kispert, 16, of Valparaiso, Ind., and Lizet Zuniga, 21, of Hammond, Ind. They were returning from a weekend of skiing at Rib Mountain near Wausau.
Erik Kispert estimated he was going between 65 and 75 mph when he saw brake lights ahead in the fog.
He said he stepped on the brakes but there was “absolutely nothing we can do.”
He rear-ended the car ahead. Then his vehicle was promptly hit from behind, sending it spinning. Isak Kispert suffered a gash to his scalp and Zuniga hurt her back.
Fearing they would be hit again, the trio fled the car and headed into a field off the interstate. The fog blocked their view but they could hear more crashes.
“It just sounded like a sickening, dull thud,” Erik Kispert said. “We were terrified. Worst thing I’ve ever been a part of.”
Sharon Hatch, 46, of Lodi, planned to stay at the hotel Sunday with her 12-year-old son John, and her 10-year-old daughter, Faith. The family was not hit in the accidents, but they saw pieces of cars littered the interstate and demolished vehicles sat in the ditches. Hatch said while driving she saw a semi trailer “just barreling through the ditch” on her left and to her right, another semi trailer began to crowd her in. Behind her, she said, was a 20-car pileup.
The family got out of their car and went inside a charter bus behind them, where they watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and used the bathroom.
Hatch said her children hoped they’d miss school on Monday because of the crashes, but Faith said, “there wasn’t anything cool about it.”
“People were getting hurt all around us,” she said.
The Madison area was fogged in all day, with visibility of one-eighth of a mile or less when the pileup started, said Chris Franks, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sullivan. The snow on the ground combined with a warm wind from the south to create the fog, Franks said. The fog continued to linger over parts of Wisconsin Monday.