Emergency personnel work at the scene of a multivehicle wreck on Interstate 65 near the 82 mile marker on Saturday.(Photo: AP Photo/Neal Cardin,The News Enterprise)
ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. - Six people from Wisconsin died and five other people were injured in two crashes that happened within minutes of each other Saturday, Kentucky State Police said.
The six people who died were in an SUV from Marion, Wis., traveling north near Glendale. The vehicle caught fire after it was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer shortly after 11 a.m., said Master Trooper Norman Chaffins, a state police spokesman.
Chaffins said the SUV was so badly burned it had to be moved so the bodies could be removed.
Two passengers in the SUV were found outside the vehicle with serious injuries, Chaffins said. One was taken to a Cincinnati hospital and another to a Louisville hospital, he said.
Lynn Brucker of Dayton, Ohio, said she and her husband, Roger, were driving home in their camper when the crash occurred behind them. They had slowed because of an accident ahead of them.
She said her husband looked back and saw a fireball and they went to the SUV to help those trapped inside.
Another motorist helped pull a boy from the SUV who had a slice on his wrist and other injuries, Brucker said. She emptied a small fire extinguisher on the SUV and then helped with the boy, she said.
Others helped pull a teenage girl with burns on her feet and lower legs through a partially opened window, Brucker said, "then black smoke started rolling out." A second person emptied a fire extinguisher on the SUV, and then about 30 seconds later flames began to engulf the vehicle, she said.
"It was pretty frightening," Brucker said.
Police said all occupants of the SUV were from Marion, Wis. They were identified as James Gollnow, 62, and his wife Barbara, 62; Marion Champnise, 92; Sarina Gollnow, 18; Soledad Smith, 8; and Gabriel Zumiga, 10. Police said the two children were foster children.
The two survivors were also foster children. Police identified them as Hope Hoth, 15, and Aidian Ejnik, 12.
Fire trucks were still trying to put out the SUV fire when another wreck occurred involving four vehicles in the southbound lanes just across the median from the first accident, injuring three people, one of them critically, Chaffins said.
The crashes were reported 16 minutes apart near the interstate's 83 mile marker, between Glendale and Sonora, said police dispatcher Chuck Stewart. The first crash in the northbound lanes occurred at 11:13 a.m., and the second in the southbound lanes was at 11:29 a.m.
Chaffins said despite snow flurries, weather was not a factor in either crash.
The cause of both wrecks is still being investigated, although it is likely the second crash happened when drivers slowed to look at the first one, Chaffins said.
The driver of the tractor-trailer was not injured and was cooperating with police, Chaffins said. He was not identified.
"He's obviously pretty torn up about everything," he said.
The interstate was closed in both directions until around 5 p.m.
The National Weather Service issued a hazardous weather outlook at 11:34 a.m. Saturday warning drivers of slick conditions that could continue as long as temperatures stayed below freezing.
Icy bridges were causing wrecks in the area early Saturday, another state police dispatcher said earlier in the day.
The state police dispatcher said the icy bridges were catching drivers by surprise because the rest of the roads appear to be in fine shape.
Southbound Interstate 65 was shut down at exit 94 near Elizabethtown from 8 to 9 a.m. after a wreck involving a tractor-trailer that plowed through a guardrail and hit at least one or two other cars.
At the interchange of I-65 and the Bluegrass Parkway, another car was perched atop a guardrail after apparently sliding on ice, the dispatcher said.
Louisville did not see the same uptick in crashes Saturday morning, said a MetroSafe dispatch supervisor.
Driving conditions did not appear icy in counties north or east of Louisville, either, said dispatchers for the Kentucky and Indiana state police posts.