98-Car Pileup shuts down I-70 in O'Fallon, Mo.
Thursday, April 16, 1998
By Michele Munz
Of The Post-Dispatch
Police are calling it Missouri's biggest crash in history and possibly its luckiest.
Wednesday's 98-car pileup blocked eastbound Interstate
70 for half a mile in
O'Fallon, Mo., and resulted in 37 people being taken to four hospitals in St.
Charles County. None of the injuries was considered life-threatening.
The cars didn't fare as well. By 8:30 a.m., smashed cars
were turned every
direction on the road; some were on top of each other and sandwiched between
vehicles. Others had slid onto the concrete median or swerved off the road.
Glass, metal and skid marks marred the roadway.
"This is something you expect on the roadways in California.
This is something
you never see here," said Sgt. Terry St. Clair with the Missouri Highway Patrol.
Now accident reconstructionists and officers from the
highway patrol and
O'Fallon police are readying 98 individual crash reports, a process that may take
a week, St. Clair said. Details are emerging about what caused the rush-hour
It had been raining, and the sun had just come out, shining
in the faces of
drivers heading east on I-70, police said. Vehicles were kicking up a lot of mist
and causing glare.
Normal congestion from vehicles merging onto I-70 from
Highway 79 / Salt
Lick Road slowed traffic to a stop, catching some drivers unaware.
"Someone in that lead cluster, we're still trying to determine
who, looked ahead
and saw traffic backed up, hit the brakes and then started to skid. That's how this
whole mess got started," St. Clair said.
Police said a flatbed truck may have been the first vehicle
hit; two cars crashed
into it and set off a chain reaction.
Weather aside, the deciding factor, St. Clair said, was
people driving too fast for
the conditions and following each other too closely.
"This is a wreck that just didn't need to happen," he
said. "The real blame is on
drivers that were doing what they weren't supposed to."
Milan Recman, from St. Paul, said he was driving
his pickup truck about 55 to
60 mph when suddenly everyone was stopping. The wet roads caused drivers to
slide. He slid toward the middle of the resulting pileup.
His truck bumped into a four-door car in front of him,
and a Cadillac hit the
rear of his car. Then a sport-utility vehicle hauling a small trailer hit the
Cadillac. The impact smashed his truck into the car in front of him and forced
the Cadillac under his rear tires.
Recman, uninjured, got out to help the woman in the Cadillac.
His truck wheels
were just inches from her face. He pulled her out of her car.
"She was in shock; she wouldn't go," Recman said. "I almost
had to pull her
against her will."
Recman's wife, Sue, came to check on him after he called
her on his cellular
phone about the accident.
"I wanted to make sure he was OK because he wouldn't go
to the hospital without
me making him," she said.
Ten ambulances and 12 fire trucks responded to the scene.
A triage area was set
up on an outer road for firefighters and medical personnel to assess and treat
the injured. Some were treated in their cars.
People with the more serious injuries were taken to a
hospital first. A school bus
transported about eight people who had suffered minor injuries, he said.
Three people had to be cut from their cars. It took more
than an hour to
remove all the injured from the road.
Marty Limpert, a spokesman for the St.
Charles County Ambulance District, said
the most serious injury was a broken femur, the large bone in the upper leg.
Hospital officials said the emergency rooms were dealing
mostly with fractures,
abrasions, bruises, and head and back strains. Most people were released
Four area hospitals called in extra doctors and nurses.
The St. Charles County
Department of Dispatch & Alarm called in extra dispatchers.
Troopers and police officers blocked off the interstate's
westbound lanes and the
South outer road as tow trucks from four towing agencies loaded the crumpled
cars onto flatbed trucks or lined the cars up on the nearby exit ramp.
Many vehicles were missing windows, and deployed airbags
were flapping in the
wind. Afterward, firefighters and paramedics said the wreckage was the worst
they had ever seen.
Many people walked up the outer road and were asking officials
if anyone was
seriously injured or if children were hurt, Mosher said.
"You expect to see fatalities when you go to something
horrific as this," he said.
Many of the uninjured in the pileup also helped others cross the road and stay
calm until firefighters and paramedics arrived, he said.
"A majority of them were pretty shook up," said firefighter
"There was a woman who was behind her husband and two children, and she kept
asking about (them), but I didn't have an answer for her."
Renee Prager, from Defiance, said her husband and father
were involved in the
crash and called her on their cellular phone, telling her to call 911 and to come
out and help because she is a nurse.
"They were fine, but the people around them weren't,"
Prager said. "They sat with
a man whose knee was mangled until paramedics arrived."
They told her the pileup happened instantly.
"My husband yelled at my dad, `Watch out, watch out.' . . . and my dad just
looked in the mirror and said, `Hang on,' " Prager said.
The pileup was actually nine clusters of crashes in the
beginning near the Highway 79 exit and ending nearly a half-mile down the
highway. The largest jumble of vehicles involved 22 cars, St. Clair said.
Officials didn't reopen I-70's eastbound lanes until 11:30
a.m. - about
three hours after the crash - with officers letting cars through in one lane.