GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Nine semi-trucks and 12 cars were involved in a crash along westbound I-94 near Paw Paw in Van Buren County, closing the highway during a wicked winter storm.
"We had traffic just basically come to a stop," said Michigan State Police Trooper Jim Campbell. "No one could see and we had multiple semi-trucks -- approximately nine semi-trucks -- and maybe another 10, 12 cars, they all piled into each other. It was just a basic mess that all occurred at one time."
At least one semi-truck driver is seriously injured after the cab of his truck broke free and rolled over.
There were some minor injuries from other vehicle occupants.
"The next thing I knew, I got shoved forward about 40 feet. All I could hear behind me was bang, bang, bang, bang, one after the other," said truck driver Rob Kole, who was in the wreck. "There was one car in front of me. The rest of it was behind. ...There were some cars in the median. It looked like they spun out."
The chain-reaction crash started just before 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
"Considering the circumstances out here, we're pretty lucky," said Campbell.
Highway speeds, already backed-up traffic from earlier accidents and whiteout conditions caused the wreck, authorities said.
"You couldn't see very well. Maybe 100 feet," said Kole.
Roy Gressel, who was driving his semi-truck right behind Kole, said he just couldn't stop in time to prevent another collision.
"I knew I was going to hit him. I knew it was happening, and I just grabbed the steering wheel, and I closed my eyes, and said, 'Here we go,'" Gressel said. "After I stopped, I opened my eyes, and it was a mess."
He said he thinks other drivers had similar experiences.
"Everybody just could not stop, and we just started banging into each other," said Gressel.
Gressel said he hopes other drivers learn from the crash.
"Just slow down and be cautious. It's winter," he said.
Both westbound lanes of I-94 were closed until 4:30 p.m.
The commuter vehicles were taken to Spike's in Mattawan, 24 Hour News 8 was told. The heavier vehicles, like semi-trucks, were taken to McDonald's Towing in Kalamazoo.
The wind, snow and cold made roads throughout West Michigan treacherous Thursday, causing numerous slide-offs, fender-benders and traffic jams. Many areas saw intermittent whiteout conditions.
There were at least 18 crashes in Ottawa County alone between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Many vehicles slid into ditches, and at least one hit a tree.
== Watch the video above as 24 Hour News 8's Heather Walker spoke with a tow truck driver who worked non-stop since the snow began falling Thursday morning. ==
Along northbound U.S. 131 near Wayland in Allegan County, a semi-truck jackknifed and blocked the lanes for a time Thursday morning. There were no reports of injuries.
Another semi-truck jackknifed into the median along I-94 near Beadle Lake Road east of Battle Creek in Calhoun County Thursday morning. A handful of other crashes also occurred in the same area, including an Emmett Township Department of Public Safety car being struck from behind as the officer was assisting a Michigan State Police trooper at the semi-truck scene. The officer was not injured and the at-fault driver was traveling too fast, according to the ETDPS Facebook page.
"It takes a little bit of re-educating after these first couple snows of people to realize you can't drive those speeds, you have to slow down, leave early, and leave plenty of room between you and the car in front of you," said Ottawa County Sheriff's Sergeant Steve Austin.
If you are in a wreck, especially on the highway, Austin said drivers should remain in their vehicles with their seat belts on until help arrives. If you are able to keep you vehicle's engine on, make sure the tailpipe is not blocked by snow.
"Most people want to get out of their car and look at the damage. Your best protection is to stay right inside your car. Keep your hazards on," said Sgt. Austin. "It will keep you warm and it will protect you from any injuries from other cars that are sliding out of control or getting hit."
He said drivers should call 911.
"If you don't have a cellphone, with your hazards on, most of our calls come from passersby reporting abandoned vehicles, or vehicles that slid off in the ditch or crashes," said Austin.
Austin also said of course the best thing to do is try to avoid a wreck in the first place. He recommended leaving about eight seconds, or several hundred feet, between you and the vehicle in front of you and slowing down.
"You're not going to stop as you would on dry pavement, it's going to take you twice as long -- three times as long to stop on icy roads," said Austin.
If your vehicle does start to slip, Austin said to try to stay calm and turn into the skid.
"You want to stay calm, keep yourself calm. That will have better control over your car if you can stay calm and brake slowly," said Austin. "Steer out of your spin