Fatal I-55 chain-reaction crash, fire caused by semi hauling frozen meat, ISP says

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A fifth car has been discovered in the wreckage after five vehicles, including two semis, caught fire in a large crash on the city's Southwest Side. (WLS)

Illinois State Police say a five-vehicle, chain-reaction crash on the outbound Stevenson Expressway just east of Cicero Avenue Monday morning was caused by the driver of a semi hauling tons of frozen meat.

The 59-year-old Logansport, Ind., man driving the semi that started the crash was cited for following too closely, police said.

Police said the semi, carrying 40,000 pounds of frozen meat, first struck a first crashed into the back of a Ford pickup driven by a 43-year-old Chicago man. That pickup was sent crashing into a green minivan, which was pushed under the trailer of a second semi hauling 17,800 pounds of paint, driven by a 48-year-old Aurora man, police said. ISP investigators say the second semi then struck a 2002 Honda Civic, driven by a 35-year-old Chicago man. All of the vehicles except the Civic caught fire, fire officials said.

The identity of the driver of the green minivan and the van's make and model have not been released. The Cook County Medical Examiner's Office is using dental records to identify the victim.

The minivan and the fatality inside were not discovered in the wreckage until after the fire on the city's Southwest Side had been extinguished.

The other four drivers managed to escape the crash. The expressway was closed in both directions at the crash site for nearly three hours. All lanes of northbound I-55 were reopened by 4 p.m. Southbound I-55 reopened around 12:05 a.m. Tuesday, nearly 14 hours after the crash.

The Chicago Fire Department dispatched a foam truck from Midway International Airport to help put out the flames after the fire was raised to a two-alarm and a Level 1 hazmat was called. The fire was extinguished by around 11:55 a.m.

After the fire was struck, an EMS Plan 1 was called, which sends five ambulances to the scene.

No sooner did the crash take place than the tanker truck of paint burst into flames. The materials spilled, spreading the fire onto four other vehicles, including a second semi.

Just getting the right emergency equipment on site to fight the fire proved a challenge.

"We're concerned about flammable liquids, there's corrosives. We had to regroup, back off, get the proper equipment," said Asst. Deputy Cmsr. Timothy Sampey, CFD. "So we had to stop the traffic in both directions as well as the runoff of the flammable liquid coming towards the traffic stuck in traffic - a lot of things to juggle at first."

The drivers of both trucks were unharmed. One person in a passenger car was taken to the hospital in stable condition.

"It's going to take some time for our investigators to determine exactly what happened. Review all the parties that were involved, all the drivers and passengers if applicable to find out exactly what happened," said Master Sgt. Jason Bradley, ISP.
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