Icy roads cause hundreds of crashes, at least 4 deaths in Chicago area

John Keilman and Alicia Fabbre, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Weather News

CHICAGO -- Hundreds of traffic crashes, at least four of them fatal, were reported Wednesday morning as freezing rain glazed roads in the Chicago area.

Illinois State Police reported more than 200 crashes alone in its district in the Joliet area.

The fatal crashes included a fiery collision between a car and semi in Riverdale, another collision between a car and semi in Tinley Park, one involving three cars and a Pace bus on Illinois Highway 31 near North Aurora, and one on the Tri-State Tollway near the Hinsdale Oasis.

The crashes occurred as the area was under a winter weather advisory that warned of freezing drizzle and slippery roads. The worst icing was reported in the south and west suburbs, according to the state police.

Crashes became so frequent that state police Sgt. George Del Rio recommended motorists in Will County stay off the interstates or, at least, slow down.

"Traffic's at a standstill pretty much everywhere," he said.

Weather forced the closure of several schools in the Joliet area, and garbage collection was suspended in Joliet, where about 50 crashes were reported in early-morning hours, authorities said.

Michael Pogwizd said he was fueling up at a Hickory Hills gas station about 6 a.m. when a car pulling into the lot slid uncontrollably into the pump, knocking it onto Pogwizd's Chevy Malibu.

A small fire broke out, which Pogwizd captured in a photograph before putting it out with an extinguisher. Two other crashes happened in the lot soon thereafter, said Hickory Hills police Lt. Tim Stevens.

"It was like a crazy ice-dancing car show," Pogwizd said. "The policeman even said he'd never seen anything like this in 15 years."

Pogwizd said his car was still under the gas pump 31/2 hours later because authorities were treating it as a hazmat scene. But he was looking on the bright side: His boss gave him the day off, he said, "Plus, (the gas station) is giving me free food and coffee, so it's not that bad."

Stevens said the gas station, at 88th Avenue and 95th Street, temporarily closed because of the crashes but has since reopened.

State police said the tollways in the southern part of the Chicago area were a mess, with officers responding to about 50 crashes in the early morning.

Master Sgt. Nick Hasan said one person was killed about 5:35 a.m. in a two-vehicle crash on southbound Interstate 294, just south of the Hinsdale Oasis, though he did not have details.

He said poor conditions led to intermittent shutdowns on Interstates 355 and 88 as well, with some motorists resorting to extreme measures to escape the slick roads.

"A lot of people abandoned their vehicles," he said. "I guess they felt unsafe out there."

At least one person was killed when a car struck a parked semi around 1:30 a.m. near 145th Street and Indiana Avenue in south suburban Riverdale, police said. The car became wedged underneath the truck, trapping the driver as the car caught fire, police said.

Around 5:45 a.m., a person died when a car and semi collided on LaGrange Road just north of 175th Street in Tinley Park, according to Fire Chief Forest Reeder. The driver of the car died.

In Kane County, a fatal crash involving three cars and a Pace bus occurred around 7 a.m. on Illinois Highway 31 north of Oak Street near North Aurora. The driver of one of the cars was pronounced dead at the scene, according to a news release.

The bus had two occupants who were uninjured. The bus driver was taken to a hospital with minor injuries. Police said it appeared icy road conditions were a factor.

Elsewhere, about 10 cars were involved in a crash on southbound of I-57 at 159th Street in Markham, according to state police. A crash involving two semis was reported on the southbound Tri-State Expressway near I-57.

In Joliet, police responded to at least 51 traffic crashes between 4 and 9 a.m., Deputy Chief Edgar Gregory said. More than half of those occurred between 4:30 and 6:30 a.m..

"They've just been running from call to call," Gregory said late Wednesday morning. "It was just treacherous road conditions out there."

At about 7 a.m. the city sent a reverse 911 call to warn residents to stay off the icy roads.

Gregory said the city had multiple street closures in the early-morning hours. Near I-80 and Center Street, police and firefighters responded to a string of five crashes. One of the firetrucks responding to the crashes also was struck, Gregory said.

Will County sheriff's deputies also responded to numerous crashes and calls to assist motorists. At 10:30 a.m., deputies were on the scene of an overturned semi-truck on Wilmington/Peotone Road east of Illinois Highway 53, Sgt. Klye Lakomiak said. He estimated deputies had responded to 75 to 100 cases throughout the morning.

The official National Weather Service forecast called for occasional freezing drizzle in parts of the area Wednesday morning. Drizzle was expected to mixed with flurries mainly along and south of I-88 in northeast Illinois and in northwest Indiana and then is expected to transition to all flurries by the late morning.

For far northern and north central Illinois, the light precipitation is mainly flurries/light snow, possibly with very patchy freezing drizzle at times, according to the forecast.

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