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Dave Roepke, Published January 05 2011

Troopers still working on sorting out I-94 pileup

How do authorities figure out what happened during a wreck like the pileup last week on Interstate 94, a dangerous series of accidents in near-zero visibility conditions?

They rely on everything they possibly can, said Sgt. Dave Wolf of the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

Wolf said troopers met on Tuesday for the first time to begin the long process of trying to integrate videos, photographs, the notes and memories of officers and statements from drivers.

“We’ll just work through it the best we can,” Wolf said. “My brain’s already tired thinking about it.”

As the incident involving roughly 100 vehicles was a series of accidents, there won’t be one unified report reconstructing the movement of each truck and car.

Wolf said it would be impossible due to the urgent nature of the emergency, where tow trucks often had to pull vehicles to the side just to make their way to the core of the accidents.

The accidents happened at about noon Thursday, as the first blast of a double blizzard struck the area. One man who was injured in the crashes died Monday.

The reports will be bundled together in one overall file, Wolf said. It could take another week to complete reconstructions, he said.

“A lot of these people are saying, ‘I need a report for my insurance company,’ ” Wolf said.

Work on the crashes will likely go from the east to the west, as most troopers approached the accident near Mapleton, N.D., from the east, Wolf said.

Given the frequency of crashes in the past week, it will be challenging for the officers to recall details in some occasions, which can be frustrating for drivers.

“To them, it’s crystal clear like it just happened yesterday,” Wolf said.

Investigation of the other large pileup on Thursday, on Cass County Road 10, is mostly complete, said Sgt. Mitch Burris of the Cass County Sheriff’s Office.

Burris said at this point, reports indicate there were 35 cars involved, of which 10 were in collisions causing $1,000 in damage or more. Criminal charges are unlikely, he said.

Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said it’s an effort he doesn’t want his staff to have to repeat.

“This was, I hope, a once-in-a-career type of crash,” he said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535