WASHINGTON COUNTY, Wis. - A stretch of I-41 in Washington County was shut down in both directions Wednesday, April 21 because of at least 20 different crashes as snow fell. Two of those scenes were massive pileups, and a 37-year-old woman died.
The Washington County Sheriff's Office said dispatchers began taking 911 from motorists on I-41 near County Highway D in the Town of Wayne around 11:15 a.m. for a crash involving both passenger vehicles and commercial motor vehicles.
Initially, no major injuries were reported. Substantial traffic delays ensued as several commercial motor vehicles needed to be removed from the traffic lanes.
Within 15 minutes, the emergency communications center began taking more 911 calls of additional crashes along I-41 from Arthur Road to Cedar Creek Road in the Town of Polk. A crash involving approximately 30 vehicles happened there. A 37-year-old woman from Trenton, Tennessee died from the injuries in that crash. Six other people were sent to hospitals for treatment.
That dispatch audio offers some insight into the conditions first responders had to face, with several callers describing "whiteout" conditions. Bill Van Aacken's Tesla captured the chaos.
"The visibility just wasn’t there and I was behind that semi. So all of a sudden, you could kind of make out the other cars in the ditch," Van Aacken said.
"I’m used to the drive, but that’s the worst I’ve ever driven through," said Van Aacken. "I was definitely shaking."
Van Aacken made it home safe.
Near Cedar Creek Road, there was a crash involving 48 vehicles. The Washington County Sheriff's Office said 26 people were treated at the scene and six were taken to the hospital.
"Clearly there were some people that were in worse condition than others and I kept triaging," said Laura Calp.
Calp jumped to help those injured. An ER nurse, she lives right next to the interstate and heard the crash.
"I heard 'bang, bang,' and I knew that it was something horrible," she said.
Van Aacken said he hopes people remember his video the next time they are driving in snow.
"We live in Wisconsin," said Van Aacken. "Granted, it’s a late snow in late spring, but we should still know how to drive, you think."
The Wisconsin State Patrol said the heavy snowfall and cold temperatures created flash freeze conditions, contributing to the crashes.
Rite Way Bus Service Inc. assisted with the mass transit of about 50 stranded motorists to Pioneer Travel Plaza which served as a reunification and investigative point for the incident.