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‘We knew we were a sitting duck’: Women reflect on being pinned in 131-vehicle crash on I-41

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By Amanda Quintana for our content partner Channel3000.com

Susan Brugger and Nicole Adrian, of Platteville, were heading home from Adrian’s birthday celebration in Green Bay when they became one of the 131 vehicles involved in a massive pileup on I-41 near Neenah on Sunday morning. 

Officials said 71 people were transported to the hospital and a 30-year-old teacher from Oshkoshwas killed. 

In a press conference Monday afternoon, Winnebago County Sheriff John Matz said this pileup is believed to be “the largest traffic crash in the state’s history.”

A deputy said it was the largest, most complicated scene he had ever witnessed, comparing it to a Hollywood movie set. 

High winds and blowing snow causing whiteout conditions are believed to be one of the main causes.  

“We came around a corner, and it was just a total white wall of snow. You couldn’t see 5 feet in front of you,” said Adrian.  

Brugger was able to stop and pull to the side of the three-lane highway when she saw that the interstate was blocked. 

“While we were on the phone with 911, that’s when we got hit,” said Brugger.

“A semi jackknifed and probably sent us 50 feet, and everybody (was) kind of juggling around,” said Adrian. 

The two were pinned, with cars boxing them in on every side. 

“You could tell we were jacked up in the air, and there was a car that was underneath our rear end behind us,” said Adrian. “There was no way to get out.” 

They said they could see people getting out of their vehicles and walking on the highway. They tried to yell at them to get back in their cars. 

It took more than an hour for first responders to get to them, using the Jaws of Life to open the driver’s side door and give them a space to crawl out. 

“When they removed those two vehicles and then came to my side of the door, a fireman had said, ‘There’s two people in here and they’re still alive.’ And we figured the car looked bad, but that is probably a surreal moment that I will never forget,” said Brugger.  

Along with drivers and passengers from about 500 cars, the two women were bussed to a firehouse and then a local church to meet with the Red Cross. A deputy escorted them to a hotel Sunday night.

Adrian and Brugger are still shaken up but feeling thankful for the first responders who were able to help them get out to safety. 

Wisconsin State Trooper Chris Splinter said seeing so many cars involved in one crash is rare but he is not surprised by this because of how dangerous the weather conditions were. 

“The vehicles coming up behind them can’t stop fast enough because they’re following too close or going too fast for the conditions, and then they start just piling into one another. It’s almost like they’re just driving into a wall of cars, just like they’re driving through whiteout conditions,” said Splinter. 

He said these conditions can happen anytime between November and mid-April. 

“With the winters we’ve been having, it certainly isn’t over yet,” said Splinter.  

 



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