I-94 Dispatcher: “It was the day that was never going to end”

Posted at 5:59 PM, Jan 14, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-14 17:59:40-05

KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- As a catastrophic pileup unfolded January 9 on I-94, a group of men and women worked behind the scenes to make sure things didn't get any worse.

Kalamazoo County dispatcher Lolly Williams and Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Deputy John Schmidt said that day started out like any other. There was the occasional accident due to icy roads, but the call volume ramped up just after 9 a.m.

"It was the day that was never going to end," Williams described.

The first report of a wreck on I-94 near Galesburg “came in originally as a car [vs.] semi," she said:

Caller: I’m in an accident on I-94. I’m, like, under a semi.

Schmidt: Ok, you're eastbound. I've got that. 10-4. You're between the 90 and 91, correct?

Caller: Yes.

The caller began to weep. It's just one of dozens of frantic calls dispatchers took that Friday. The two-vehicle crash on the eastbound side quickly turned into something much worse. Eventually, 193 vehicles had smashed together on both sides of the slick highway in white-out conditions.

"We got state troopers on the way," Williams told a caller.

The total number of vehicles involved, injuries, or even deaths remained unknown for hours. One caller told Williams, "I definitely want to let you know there is one female patient with a broken arm."

When asked how she manages to remain calm, Williams cited her experience. "I've been doing this for 35 years. So you just learn. If I get excited, I can’t do my job. I can’t get the help out to the people.”

Williams said she is trained to listen carefully and remain monotone, but caller emotions that day were all over the board. Several other jurisdictions helped answer calls about the pileup and other unrelated emergencies.

Watch the video above for more from Williams experience as a dispatcher.