CEDAR SPRINGS, Mich. — Our first shot at below-freezing temperatures this month, mixed with whiteout conditions, spelled disaster along a busy stretch of West Michigan highway Friday afternoon.
“Well, it was just a couple cars at first that started sliding down into the ditch and as it always happens people are either going too fast or they get caught off guard by the snow and icy weather,” Michigan State Police trooper Matthew Williams said afterward.
Roughly 50 vehicle were involved in crashes along US-131 between 14 Mile and 17 Mile roads Friday afternoon. Police, fire and emergency medical services responded to the crashes, shutting down portions of the freeway for hours.
All the damaged vehicles were taken to the park-and-ride area on 14 Mile Road (M-57) just west of US-131. Most of the vehicles were soon towed away to where they could be repaired.
Meanwhile, the drivers involved in the crash were really shaken up. Many of them were able to give us their accounts.
One of those was Zachary St. Pierre, a Ferris State University student.
“My first thought was, ‘Did I just die?’” he said. “I was very nervous.”
St. Pierre was hoping to start his Christmas break Friday, but now he’s just happy to be alive.
“School had just ended,” he said. “I was finally leaving and it (the crash) just came out of nowhere.”
Three hours away from his holiday time with family on the east side of the state, St. Pierre’s journey ended as quickly as it began.
“There were no cars around me and the snow storm came and I just started slowing down,” he recalled. “Then it finally cleared and there were just cars everywhere.”
It was all because of a whiteout. Now St. Pierre’s car was on a tow truck, with the bumper barely holding onto his car as a reminder of the whole experience.
“I swerved so I was one-half on the road and so I spun out and the back end on my car hit another car,” he said. “Then I was just in a ditch stuck between two other cars.”
Trooper Williams said it’s something the state police see every year during the first real snowfall.
“They end up not being able to stop and as soon as that happens you end up with one car sliding into another,” he said. “Sooner or later the freeway ends all clogged up.”
Williams said the great news is that besides some soreness tomorrow, all the drivers involved in the crash reported no serious injuries.
“A lot of the cars weren’t just hit once, but four or five times continuing to get hit, he said.
St. Pierre had to wait a few hours to be picked up by his parents. But he said that’s OK, because at least he will still be around to enjoy the Christmas break.
He also has a warning for the next person planning to head home after their finals are finished.
“I mean, if it does start to snow just go slow and be cautious and be prepared for the worst,” said St. Pierre. “I was not expecting that to happen.”