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Officers Describe Wis. Highway Crash

October 12, 2002

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SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (AP) _ Authorities struggled Saturday with the aftermath of a fiery 38-vehicle highway pileup that left 10 people dead, some of them burned beyond recognition.

While some relatives were contacted Friday in the hours after the crash, authorities had not released any names of victims Saturday morning. Officials said they might have to use DNA to identify the victims.

The Wisconsin State Patrol was investigating what caused the morning rush hour crash on foggy Interstate 43, just west of Lake Michigan. Thirty-six people were injured, seven critically and one seriously. Officials said driver error, going too fast for the weather, figured in the wreck.

A portable propane tank in the trunk of one vehicle exploded possibly starting or adding to the blaze fueled by gasoline, diesel fuel, oil and debris.

The State Patrol planned to reconstruct the accident to try to determine exactly what happened, but it won’t be easy, said spokeswoman Nancy Olig. She said most of the vehicles appeared to have been hit three or four times.

On Saturday, 10 pink and white flowers were placed on a hill overlooking the crash site where debris remained along the roadway, including headlamps, a boot and a charred pair of blue jeans.

``We’re really pretty much shell-shocked,″ said Todd Behling, whose brother Eric, died in the accident. He said the sheriff’s department notified the family Friday.

Some family members stopped in Friday night at a grief counseling center set up at the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Department. Kim Hellstrom, a Salvation Army volunteer at the center, said the city of about 50,000 is a close-knit community.

``If someone was hurt or died in the accident, that could affect 20 families,″ she said.

___

Associated Press writer Jenny Price in Madison contributed to this report.

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