Whiteout Sets Off 15-Car Pileup


 
 

Dan BensonMike Johnson | | Tuesday, December 23, 2008


BELGIUM, Wis. -- A whiteout, along with slick pavement, caused a 15-vehicle pileup Sunday on I-43 that injured 11 people and left numerous others shaken, as winter continued to wreak havoc on southeastern Wisconsin.

The chain-reaction crash had already begun when Tom Galioto of Grafton was driving in the southbound lane and saw a man standing in the road, waving his arms to alert him to trouble ahead.

Galioto slammed on his brakes but because he was on a bridge over Jay Road, he couldn't swerve left or right and ended up sliding into a minivan.

"There was no place to go," Galioto said. "I was helpless."

Galioto and three off-duty emergency medical technicians involved in the pileup quickly went to the aid of others. Most of the injured were treated at area hospitals and released, and none suffered life-threatening injuries, authorities said.

Conditions were ripe for the whiteout thanks to the 30- to 40-mph winds that kicked up the fluffy snow that fell overnight. The snow, 2 to 4 inches in most areas of southeast Wisconsin, was the latest in a long line of snowstorms that have pummeled the Milwaukee area this month.

And there's no end in sight as another 5 to 9 inches of snow could fall by Wednesday, which is Christmas Eve, according to the National Weather Service.

The noon pileup on I-43, north of Highway D, left the southbound lanes closed for about three hours.

The van that Galioto's pickup collided with carried a man, a pregnant woman and two young children, Galioto said. The man and woman were taken out on stretchers, he said.

Galioto was on the way back from Lakewood, north of Green Bay, where he had been visiting his parents.

Highway conditions were not bad until he hit Sheboygan, he said, and then it "got progressively worse and worse and worse."

Straight into the mess

Gene and Diane Markiewicz of Port Washington also were involved in the pileup but were not injured.

They were returning from Sheboygan, where they had attended their grandchildren's Christmas program at church.

Gene Markiewicz found whiteout conditions as he approached the Jay Road overpass. He spotted the top of a semi through the blowing snow, and slowed down.

He said he got rear-ended by another car and careened into ditch, right before the Jay Road overpass.

EMTseventually checked out the couple as a precaution, and a tow truck driver took them to a restaurant in the Village of Belgium.

"We got great care from the EMTs. They had it the worst because they were out in the wind," Diane Markiewicz said.

The Markiewiczes said they were told by an EMT that there were not any serious injuries in the crashes.

It wasn't known to which fire department the EMTs were attached.

Sgt. Brian Glocke of the Ozaukee County Sheriff's Department said investigators are trying to talk to everyone involved in the crashes to reconstruct what happened.

Sunday's crash site is south of where 50 cars piled up in fog on southbound I-43 in southern Sheboygan County, killing 10 people, on Oct. 11, 2002. That crash occurred just north of the Ozaukee-Sheboygan county line.

Weather-related fatalities: This weekend's weather contributed to the deaths of three people - a 15-year-old Menomonee Falls girl who was killed Friday when the vehicle she was in hit a patch of ice and struck a tree; a 67-year-old Milwaukee man who collapsed and died while shoveling snow; and a 45-year-old Milton woman who died in a two-vehicle crash Saturday in the Town of Milton after she lost control of her car on snow-covered Highway 59 and collided with another vehicle.

Snowy December: The snow that has bombarded Milwaukee makes this December the second snowiest on record, according to the National Weather Service. So far, 30.1 inches of snow has fallen at Mitchell International Airport, but that is still well off the record 49.5 inches that fell in December 2000.

At least three snowfalls are expected in Milwaukee this week. The forecast calls for 2 to 4 inches Tuesday afternoon, less than an inch Tuesday night and 3 to 5 inches Christmas Eve.

"First place is still going to be a reach," said National Weather Service forecaster Bob McMahon.

Snow also is expected Friday, but estimates are not yet available.

Snow emergency lifted: The City of Milwaukee lifted its snow emergency at noon Sunday, saying the emergency no longer was necessary to help with snow cleanup operations.

The city had declared the snow emergency at noon Friday, and had been ticketing and towing parked cars. Many of the cars that were hampering plowing efforts have either been moved or towed, the city said in a statement.

The city said its goal was to have main streets clear for this morning's commute.

Normalcy returns: Mitchell International Airport, where more than 100 flights were delayed or canceled since Friday's storm, was operating normally Sunday. Travelers were advised, however, to check with their airline for any updates on canceled flights.

Although some of the havoc caused by the snow and gusting winds was subsiding, there were still worries about the cold. The temperature in Milwaukee didn't make it above zero Sunday, and wind chills were in the minus-25 to minus-30 range. Temperatures today will rise to about 9 degrees, but the wind chills will be in the minus-20 range.

Repairers of the Breach, a daytime resource center for homeless people, opened for overnight stays last week to help keep people out of the cold. Spokesman Steve Johnstone said 38 people were housed in the shelter, 1335 W. Vliet St., on Saturday night. It can hold 40.

The organization is seeking donations of blankets for the homeless and cash donations to help cover the added utility expenses, Johnstone said. For information, call (414) 934-9305.

Yasmeen El-Amin, house manager of the Salvation Army Emergency Lodge, 1730 N. 7th St., said the lodge has been full for days and Sunday night had 129 men, women and children.

Dan Benson reported for this story from the Town of Belgium and Mike Johnson from Milwaukee. The Associated Press contributed to this report.




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