And, we’ve learned the brutal winter weather conditions may have also hidden key clues in the investigation.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol now says 48 vehicles were involved in the crash leaving 4 people dead and 62 hurt.
The crash happened Dec. 23 on a stretch of the turnpike in Sandusky County, not far from the Erie County border. Investigators with the state patrol are now trying to figure out exactly what happened.
“We have to be very systematic in what we do in speaking to folks, collecting data that we can, and looking at the damage that occurred to the vehicles,” said OSHP Sgt. Ray Santiago.
He added, “On a normal day, we would be looking for things such as skid marks, any sort of gouges made in the roadway, debris that was left behind and where it fell. On this particular day, the wind was blowing so hard, the snow was falling at a rate that was covering all of that.”
Santiago said the investigation will take several weeks, if not longer. He noted the family members of the four people who were killed, as well as the 62 individuals injured, all deserve a “very thorough investigation.”
Erie County officials, who responded to the scene, say the crash was massive and “horrific.”
Groton Township Volunteer Fire Chief Kerry Jett and Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth say the blowing snow and fierce winds not only complicated the investigation, but also made rescues much more difficult.
“It is definitely one of the worst I have ever seen in my 38 years,” said Assistant Groton Township Volunteer Fire Chief Tom Croy. “In the area I covered, we had 10 people that had to be extricated with the jaws of life.”
Croy added, it took more than six hours to free one woman from the wreckage after her van went underneath a semi.
“It was extremely cold,” Croy said. “We were working in 30 minute shifts.”
He noted one firefighter got frostbite.
One of the four people killed in the massive pileup was, Julie M. Roth, 37, of Toledo, who was expecting a child. The other three were Bernard M. Bloniarz, 59, of Napoleon, Emma L. Smith, 19, of Webberville, Michigan, and Francisco Gutierrez-Martinez, 30, of Cleveland.
Sigsworth noted that the first responders who were at the scene did their very best in extreme weather conditions.
“The dedication and the commitment of the public safety employees that were actually down on the roadway working that scene was incredible,” the sheriff said. “We all know what the weather was, how brutal the wind was, and these guys were not giving up. They didn’t give up and did everything they could to help everyone involved.”
The highway patrol is hoping some drivers involved may have captured what happened on their own dashboard cameras. More and more drivers, especially truckers, have those.
“It’s going to take some time to work through,” Santiago said.