The Interstate 55 super fog pileup damaged or destroyed 168 vehicles and killed seven people. Among the survivors was Zack Barton, 55, of New Orleans, whose pickup truck careened off the elevated highway into Pass Manchac.
When he left his Lakeview home Monday morning, for a hike in Mississippi, Barton never thought he’d be thankful his pickup was hit so hard that it flew over the I-55 guardrail.
“I remember feeling going to the right and then falling, and then it was just water coming over us,” Barton said.
“You know, when I was under the water, I was like, I felt like I was going to die, you know, but then after that, it was OK. I’m alive, you know, check myself out.”
Cut by shattered glass, Barton felt his survival instinct kick in. He and his companion climbed out of the passenger door, but in the fog on the highway above, he kept hearing hit after hit after hit, and feared one of those vehicles would also fall off and crush them.
“I told Richard, like, ‘We’ve got to get away. We’ve got to get away.’ Like, ‘Get to shore. We’ve got to get away.’”
Today Barton’s daughter, Caroline, puts bandages on her stuffed rabbit’s torn-up feet. The toy has been in Barton’s truck. Barton’s thankful he, too, escaped with no more injuries than skin cuts.
“From the pictures from where we went off, where we would have been at, if we hadn’t went off, it was nothing but burned cars,” he said.
Many of those burned cars are now in Kenner at Aaron Campeaux Towing, where owner Aaron Campeaux’s story is different than Barton’s but just as traumatic.
“When you pick this car up, the metal was just stuck on the concrete,” Campeaux said.
“The smell. The tanker trucks. You got one side of the tanker trucks on fire. You got the other side of that is full with food, or something like that, and you have people in stretchers. And when one EMS would come, the other one would leave,” he remembered.
Campeaux and two employees moved wrecked cars from I-55 from Monday at 9 a.m. to Tuesday at noon. They had no breaks, nor sleep.
“The people [whom] you’ve seen hurt, the people [who were] injured — it was just, it was terrible. I catch myself waking up in the middle of the night just thinking, ‘Are they OK?’”
There’s been a steady stream of families coming to Campeaux Towing to get belongings from their damaged cars.
A sister is helping her brother, who just had back surgery from his injuries. The tow company tells her to leave the child car seats for good; they might no longer protect her nephews.
One man searched and searched for his ring in a burned car. It’s gone. Instead, he found a rosary in perfect shape.
Louisiana State Police came to the tow yard to identify the vehicles but did not succeed with all of them. On some, the vehicle identification number plates on the dashboards were completely burned away. On one car, they stuck a mirror beneath the chassis and searched until they found another VIN plate.
And just like Barton wanted to get back home to his wife and daughter for comfort after the crashes, so did Campeaux, who has an 11-year-old son, Carson.
“I just really wanted him, to tell him I loved him, which I do every day. But I just felt in my heart that I know, if I hear his voice, I will be all right,” Campeaux said.