UPDATED: According to the Livingston County Sheriff Department, the final tally of the vehicles involved is 53.
Authorities have identified two of the three people dead as married couple, Homer Leon Tew, 69, and Therea O'Connor Tew, 62, from Ann Arbor. According to the Battle Creek Enquirer, police have been unable to notify next of kin for the third victim, a 28-year-old man from Hollywood, Florida.
The Livingston County Sheriff's Office said some of vehicles may have been run off the highway and were not actually involved in the crash.
The pileup began when snow began to blanket the area, causing whiteout conditions on the highways, the sheriff's office said. The falling snow then froze, leading to the treacherous conditions.
The crash happened on westbound I-96 between the Williamston and Okemos exits. It started out with whiteout snow conditions exacerbated by a thin sheet of ice that covered the freeway.
One semi-truck was jackknifed across most of the lanes of I-96. About a dozen cars and trucks were in the ditches of the median and shoulder of the road. Several dozen more vehicles were smashed but had been able to pull off on the side of the road.
A Free Press reporter traveling to Lansing heard "the most terrifying sounds I’ve ever heard" as a semi-truck's tires skidded on the ice behind her. She had nowhere to go because traffic was at a stand-still.
"Fortunately, he was able to stop before plowing into me," reporter Kathleen Gray said, noting that "it probably took about an hour to get through the accident scene. Traffic was able to pull around the jackknifed semi-truck on the shoulder of the freeway."
Today’s crash offers a troubling reminder of other multi-vehicle crashes on Michigan’s interstates in recent years.
Almost 200 vehicles were involved in a crash on I-94 west of the Calhoun-Kalamazoo county line in January 2015. The crash, which had part of the interstate closed for days, left 58-year-old truck driver Jean Larocque of Quebec dead and sent almost two dozen people to hospitals. Frigid temperatures and blowing snow were blamed as was excessive speed, and dozens of drivers were ticketed for speeding, according to previous reports posted at freep.com.
An audit conducted after the crash called for relocating a cable barrier, more electronic signs, new lighting and freeway courtesy patrols, according to an Associated Press report.
That crash was just over two years after a 41-vehicle crash in whiteout conditions on I-75 near the Springwells exit in Detroit left three dead – Gabrielle Greenwood, 9, and her stepbrother, Aidan Hicks, 7, of Windsor, and Menelaos (Larry) Manolis, 54, of Allen Park, the Free Press reported.
Detroit Free Press staff contributed.