A massive 131-car pileup in Wisconsin left one dead and dozens more hospitalized Sunday in what local officials said may have been the largest traffic crash in the history of the state.
The Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office has released photos, videos and several 911 calls made by anguished motorists involved in the chain-reaction crash in Neenah. Police said local dispatchers received 772 calls to 911 related to the crash; a result of blowing snow and whiteout conditions on Interstate 41 that “taxed the capacity of EMS providers.”
“Help, I’m on the highway. There’s a huge accident — a huge pileup. I’m so scared!” a woman is heard telling a dispatcher, who then asks for her location.
“I’m on — hang on, hang on,” she answers, eventually saying she’s on Interstate 41. “There’s a huge pileup. People are — ”
Loud, indistinguishable background noises obfuscate much of the woman’s call.
What can be heard are her desperate cries for assistance.
“Help me! Help me! Help me!” the woman yells. It’s unclear if she heard the dispatcher’s repeated requests for her to get back inside her vehicle.
Police on Monday identified the person killed in the crash as Andrew Schefelker of Oshkosh, a 30-year-old who taught science in a Wisconsin school district. Other 911 calls from the scene portray the confusion and panic precipitated by the pileup, which officials say left 71 people hospitalized.
“It’s like the snow blowing right across the highway and everybody is, like, it’s a pileup now,” one woman told a dispatcher, adding she was in a “very bad accident.”
She knew at least three other cars were involved in the crash but generally couldn’t see anything.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” she screamed. “We’re okay. Everyone’s crashing into us because we’re stopped on the side.”
But soon afterward, the terrified woman cried out again, yelling: “My car’s just shaking, I don’t feel safe in the car . . . help us, please!”
A different caller detailed to police how a “big semi” came through and “hit a bunch of cars.”
After confirming the drivers were not hurt and help was on the way, a few of the 911 dispatchers acknowledged the high volume of reports they were receiving about the incident. They instructed callers to stay inside of their vehicles and turn on their hazard lights.
Officials are still matching motorists with their impounded vehicles, the majority of which “are at a total loss and not drivable,” police said in a news release. The scene took about two hours to stabilize as 500 vehicles not involved in the crash were guided off the interstate, which was closed until Monday at 3 a.m.
Dashboard and body-camera footage provided by police shows emergency responders climbing atop the snow-covered vehicles to reach those trapped inside.
“It is taking a significant amount of time to determine the sequence of events and put together pieces of the puzzle,” police said.