Passenger recalls I-55 massive pileup: ‘It was like Final Destination’

Recalling I-55 pileup: “All you could hear was pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. It was like Final Destination. It was like you were in the middle of a war zone, and there was nowhere to go.”

GONZALES — No one riding during their morning commute down I-55 on Oct. 23, 2023 knew the tragedy that was bound to happen caused by fog and other factors.

Heavy fog mixed with a lifting smoke over Interstate 55 triggered the fiery crash and 158-vehicle pileup around 8:40 a.m. that killed seven people. Louisiana State Police troopers shut down I-55 at mile marker 22 from Ruddock to Manchac.

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Farrin Hill was traveling with a co-worker heading to work that morning and recalled her experience. They were driving from Gonzalez to Hammond when they got on I-55.

“When we got on the bridge, it was different,” she said. “It was more foggy, but it wasn’t the same atmosphere as before going on the bridge. About eight minutes after getting on the bridge, all the traffic stopped. There was a fender bender in front of us. It was one mile from the Manchac exit.”

After coming to a stop, Hill and her co-worker talked about the traffic jam briefly before she noticed something more troubling.

“I was in the passenger seat, and when I looked in between the two seats, I was relieved that the car behind us, a smaller car, had stopped. But then I saw immediately coming in behind it was a black 18-wheeler. I was like, ‘Oh, no.’ The first 18-wheeler hit us, and I told my co-worker, ‘We’ve got to run’.”

The impact of the crash forced Hill’s leg to get stuck. As she attempted to free her leg, she turned around and saw another 18-wheeler approaching the pile.

“When I looked, I saw the second 18-wheeler,” she recalled. “It was a blue 18-wheeler with a sunset on it. And that’s what I remember seeing: a sunset. I had gotten my leg unstuck, and I braced myself as hard as I could, holding on to my seat belt. At that time, I had already been pushed by the first 18-wheeler, and my door was jammed into the concrete barricade.”

Hill said she noticed smoke and fire immediately after the second 18-wheeler crashed.

“I pulled myself out of the passenger window, and I put my right foot onto the concrete barricade. I pushed myself up over the top onto the roof of the car and slid down the hood,” she said. “The car was catching fire. Once my feet hit the ground, I just took off running.”

Hill was running down the highway away from the fire when someone told her the southbound lanes were also on fire in the I-55 pileup.

“All you could hear was pop, pop, pop, pop, pop,” Hill said. “It was like Final Destination. It was like you were in the middle of a war zone, and there was nowhere to go. I remember looking off the side of the embankment. I was looking down there, and there was nothing but water. I was on top of the car before I slid down the roof. I’d seen a white truck go to the side, and I just kept thinking it couldn’t be you.”

“I thought I was running to safety,” she added. “There was nothing. It was dark, just smoke, fog, and screams.”

Aftermath of I-55 pileup

Two hours after the I-55 pileup started, Hill said Acadian Ambulance paramedics transported her and five others to Laplace Riverside Hospital.

She said the medics had labeled those injured as green, yellow or red. Hill said she was labeled green because it represented people with more minor injuries. She suffered injuries to her neck and back that she realized when things settled down.

Hill said the wreck changed her daily routine. It took her two weeks to drive on her own. She also struggled with anxiety following the crash.

“I don’t want to get out of bed,” she said. “I think that family is super important. I have to remind myself that anytime I’m driving and I hear and I see in my mirrors, that doesn’t mean that somebody’s going to be negligent and hit me.”

The mom of three said “thankful” is a word she’d use to describe how she’s felt following the incident.

“Thankful and blessed,” she said. “There is a God. I just keep thinking of my kids. It’s me; without me, they don’t have that person. I started seeing the obituaries for the people on the news media posts. I’m thankful and blessed. I don’t want to take life for granted again. Those trips can wait. Those corporate meetings, they can wait.”

Hill wrapped up by saying at the end of the day, the bridge should have been closed.

“I think that if the general public knew that there was a super fog that was a combination of smoke and fog, and there were marshland fires, that should have been shut down, and those people wouldn’t have lost their lives,” she stated. “I would have never been on it personally. I’ve never been in a fog where you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. I think there should have been a lot more warning from people higher up about what’s going on.”

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