MONTICELLO — A 29-vehicle pile-up Thursday morning closed both sides of Interstate Highway 94 near Monticello and sent up a plume of black smoke as a fire spread and vehicles burned.
Nine people were taken to a nearby hospital with apparently minor injuries, according to the Minnesota State Patrol. The driver of the semi truck that caught fire, with the fire later spreading to other vehicles, is OK, according to a tweet from State Patrol Sgt. Jesse Grabow.
The crash occurred in the westbound lanes of I-94 near Monticello just before 9:15 a.m. Thursday, according to the patrol. Westbound I-94 remained closed Thursday afternoon between Wright County Road 19 and Minnesota Highway 25 as crews worked to remove the wrecked vehicles. The westbound lanes reopened around 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
State patrol believes a non-emergency stop made by a semi may have played a role in starting the chain of events in the crash.
According to a Friday new release, investigators with the state patrol are seeking information about a semitrailer with a white cab and white trailer that may have been stopped on I-94 near Wright County Road 18 in the traffic lane prior to the chain-reaction crash.
Witnesses said the semi was stopped on I-94 in the flow of traffic, according to state patrol. Witnesses also said the driver may have been clearing snow from the windshield.
Investigators are looking to identify the driver or company of the stopped semi. If you have any information, contact the Minnesota State Patrol St. Cloud District Office at 320-223-6666.
Caught in the pileup
One driver who was caught in the middle of the crash said sudden, heavy snow struck just before the accident.
At 9 a.m., it was “just normal winter conditions,” said Jim Rosenow, 53, of Shoreview. “Then, all of a sudden, just a wall of snow… white-out conditions. It was a matter of 30 seconds.”
The National Weather Service issued a snow squall warning near the area Thursday morning. That snow squall made travel “extremely difficult” in the area at the time of the crash, according to the state patrol.
“I slowed down to 20,” Rosenow said, “and then the next thing I know… all I saw in front of me was semi trucks jackknifing and cars smashing, and I locked up the brakes and slid into the median.”
His truck ended up pinned between two semis, Rosenow said. After around a minute, he escaped his vehicle by breaking his back window with the help of first responders.
The fire eventually spread to and destroyed his truck, Rosenow said. He estimated about half of the vehicles in the pileup were engulfed in flames.
Rosenow said he was checked by paramedics and was cleared to go home on his own. He said if traffic had not slowed down when the snow hit, the injuries could have been much worse.
The state patrol is continuing to investigate the cash. They are asking any drivers who left the scene or people with information regarding the incident to call the St. Cloud district office at 320-223-6666.
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This article originally appeared on St. Cloud Times: 29-vehicle crash on I-94 near Monticello erupts in flames, investigators seek semi driver