MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Ill. – A blinding dust storm led to seven deaths from a series of crashes involving more than 70 vehicles along Interstate 55 in south central Illinois.
Illinois State Police tell FOX 2 that now seven drivers in the northbound lanes of Interstate 55 died from the crash. Investigators have identified one victim as 88-year-old Shirley Harper from Franklin, Wisconsin. ISP says two other victims have tentatively been identified, though authorities are working to confirm with family members.
Of the victims who died, ISP is working to identify four other adults. Police have not disclosed the genders or possible ages of those victims. However, one victim was found inside a blue Chrysler 300, while the other was found inside an unknown-colored Hyundai.
If you have any information on these victims, contact ISP at 618-346-3653.
Illinois State Police say 37 people were hospitalized and 72 vehicles were believed to be involved in the crash in some capacity.
ISP spokesperson Brendan Kelly says they can’t jump to conclusions on what exactly led up to the crash, though noted a period of dryness in Illinois might have contributed to the dust storm. He says the stretch of Interstate 55 where the crash happened is flat and surrounded by dirt farms, though usually doesn’t experience much trouble from wind breaks.
“There were very unusual circumstances,” said Kelly. “Certainly dust stroms happen, but it’s not something that happens every day in this part of Illinois or in any part of Illinois. It’s a terrible tragedy, it’s a terrible day in this part of Illinois and for the families that were affected by this, we’ll certainly continue to keep them at the center of our hearts.”
Kelly adds that the intestate was closed quickly after initial reports of crashes and the dust storm around 11 a.m. Monday, though, noted “parameters are not always predictable” to have closed it in advance, like in the case of a blizzard or icy conditions.
Kelly also adds that 40 ISP troopers responded to the scene Monday, calling their effort in assisting “very professional, very timely.”