Wisconsin state trooper reflects on Jackson County I-94 crash, warns drivers about icy roads

Emergency crews say training and communication key to large crash response on Wisconsin roads

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WKBT) – A massive crash on a Wisconsin interstate serves as a reminder to drivers of the dangers of ice on the road. However, emergency responders prepare to respond to crashes of any size.

These long stretches of asphalt shave time off a road trip.

“Want to help people and make the highway safer,” said Lt. Dean Haigh, who is stationed at the Wisconsin State Patrol’s Eau Claire post.

Haigh manages a team that holds Interstate 94 drivers accountable for the speed posted that’s plenty fast.

“Anybody that’s lived here knows the dream, right?” Haigh said.

Sarcasm from a veteran trooper who knows winter driving conditions can change in a flash.

“It happened quickly,” Haigh said.

On Dec. 23, right before the morning rush, road conditions became icy.

“We can switch to ice-covered, snow cover in a matter of minutes,” Haigh said. “We routed all resources we could possibly get there.”

The crash involved about 50 vehicles, with several semi-trucks catching on fire. Haigh and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department helped coordinate the arrival of emergency responders.

“It ends up kind of an assembly line,” said Steven Hensley, Gundersen Health System Ambulance supervisor of clinical services.

Hensley said communication is the difference in saving lives.

“Whoever is in the incident command component has to be calm, cool, collected, and very structured,” Hensley said.

One fire department bused people to safety.

“That was something we didn’t even have to do,” Haigh said. “They took care of that on their own.”

This scene became a reminder to drivers this winter season.

“Anytime we’re in winter we obviously need to watch our speed and slow down,” Haigh said.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials recommend keeping four seconds of distance between vehicles because at these speeds that distance is closer than a person would think. Once the sun rose, the glimmer of light in this stretch of destruction became clear.

“We had no fatalities,” Haigh said.

A miracle perhaps.

“I’m not really sure how everybody survived,” Haigh said.

Nonetheless, Haigh says teamwork came together just as fast as the road turned into ice.

“I’m not gonna lie; a huge sigh of relief once it was all done with,” Haigh said.

Emergency responders say they train together with other agencies. This way every department understands their roles so they can get people to safety.

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