One dead from I-70 multi-vehicle pile-up

Image from INDOT cam
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One person has died as a result of Thursday's multi-vehicle crash on I-70.

Police say 25-year-old Harry Sohal of Ontario, Canada, who was taken to Methodist Hospital after the crash, died after 11:00 pm Thursday night. His family has been notified.

Indiana State Police investigators say weather was a factor in a massive crash involving dozens of semi trucks and cars along Interstate 70 near Plainfield in Hendricks County Thursday afternoon.

Sohal was in the sleeper of a 2012 Freightliner semi trailer being driven by his father, Satpal Sohal, 51, also of Ontario. The semi was westbound on I-70 when the crash occurred.

A total of 23 semi trailers and 17 passenger vehicles were involved in the crash. Ten people were injured and taken to local hospitals.

Police say snow squalls were a contributing factor to the crash when visibility declined rapidly. Drivers slowed down, but at different rates,  resulting in numerous collisions.

There were a total of 23 vehicles involved in the crashes on westbound I-70 and 17 vehicles involved in the crashes on eastbound I-70. The investigation of the multiple crashes that occurred at this scene is anticipated to be completed within the next ten days.

"I see a truck slide into the ditch beside me and I slid into that truck," remembered Canadian semi-truck driver Rob Stevenson of the crash.

Before he knew it, Stevenson was part of a chain of crashes that happened one right after the other.

"I could hear banging around me and other cars crashing into each other," Stevenson added.

An estimated 35 vehicles were involved in the crash, including as many as 20 semi-trailers.

The crash happened just as several witnesses and drivers told Eyewitness News snow squalls kicked up, catching drivers off guard.

"Indications are that weather was likely a factor," said Indiana State Police Sergeant David Bursten.

For now, though, the only bigger picture of what happened, could be seen from Chopper 13 overlooking the dozens of vehicles lying on the side of the highway in a heap.

"This isn't like TV, where its all wrapped up in a one-hour episode," Bursten said of the investigation.

An INDOT spokesperson told Eyewitness News crews were treating roads and removing snow all day in that same area of the interstate. According to INDOT, parts of the highway were dry one moment and covered in snow the next.

What else beyond weather that may have played a part in the crash has yet to be figured out.

"This is nothing that's going to happen in a couple of hours. It's going to take us several days to piece this together," said Bursten.

Part of that will come from investigators interviewing dozens of the drivers involved.

"I know people want to know things and we want to know it too and we do a disservice when we try to guess what happened," said Bursten.

Witnesses say the crash happened during white-out conditions, and that traffic had already slowed down.

"We were well below legal speed limits - 20 to 25 mph. So everybody was already driving under safety and precaution and this accident still happened," said Colin Stiefel, witness.

Witness Richard Pryor called it "the worst accident I've ever seen in the 50 years I've been living. The number of cars and the amount of people; the risk was even worse until the fire department got there because we actually had fuel go leaking out on the ground. The exhaust from the trucks being up against the plastic parts of other semis were starting to cause fires and smoldering and smoke. One guy was screaming, 'help, help, help.' It was very emotional and very rough."

Stiefel credits their driver for avoiding the crashes.

According to INDOT, the eastbound lanes of I-70 could be closed up to six hours at the 59 mile marker.

There are several tow trucks working the in crash zone.

Elephants involved

Three elephants were also involved in the crash.

Police say one of the tractor-trailers that slid off the roadway at the crash scene was hauling the animals. The elephants were off-loaded from the trailer by their trainer.

Once the semi was pulled back onto the highway, the elephants were re-loaded into the trailer.

Police say none of the elephants were injured in the incident and were never loose or running free.

Plan your route to avoid the closures.

Earlier story:

Snow squalls caused problems on interstates all day in central Indiana. Earlier, Indiana State Troopers with the Pendleton district reported multiple slide-offs or crashes on I-69 from the 214 to 242 mile marker (Madison/Delaware Counties).

See traffic updates for central Indiana here.

Highs will only reach the mid-twenties Thursday with cloudy skies and flurries. Winds will gust up to 30mph, giving us wind chills in the single digits.

Thursday night, flurries are still possible as temperatures drop to the single digits. Winds will gust up to 30mph, making it feel like -15 to 0. Frigid and dangerous cold is setting up tonight.

Friday we only reach the teens with subzero wind chills. Late Friday night through the day Saturday light accumulating snow is possible.

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