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Charges possible in I-94 blizzard fatality

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Criminal charges could be possible in the death of a man struck during a series of crashes on Interstate 94 during a Dec. 30 blizzard, a state trooper said Tuesday.

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Troopers from the North Dakota Highway Patrol are done with the investigation of the massive pileup on

I-94, which affected roughly 100 vehicles, Capt. Eldon Mehrer stated in a Tuesday news release.

The crashes began late morning Dec. 30 as a powerful winter storm - the first of two that paralyzed much of the region over the New Year's weekend - reduced visibility to nearly whiteout conditions and covered the roadway with thick glare ice.

Mehrer said the incident included 35 property damage crashes and four injury accidents, damaging nearly 50 vehicles. Many officers called it the worst traffic accident they'd ever seen.

One person, Lowell Balk, a 50-year-old truck driver from Walcott, N.D., died in the incident after he got out of his semi to help other motorists and was struck by another vehicle.

North Dakota Highway Patrol Sgt. Dave Wolf said the report on that crash will be forwarded to Cass County prosecutors.

"There might possibly be some charges," Wolf said.

Fifteen vehicles were involved in the crash that killed Balk, Mehrer stated in the news release.

Investigators determined that the initial crash occurred when a semi jack-knifed, blocking eastbound lanes of I-94 near Exit 342 just west of West Fargo. High winds contributed to the semi driver losing control of the truck, which was pulling an empty trailer, Mehrer stated in the release.

Troopers found that in addition to the 15-vehicle collision during which Balk was struck, there were separate accidents involving eight vehicles, four vehicles and, in the westbound lanes, a crash involving eight vehicles, according to the release. The pileup included numerous separate crashes involving two or three vehicles, Mehrer said.

In the course of the blizzard, troopers from the Fargo-based Southeast Region responded to 269 stranded motorists and abandoned vehicles, according to the release.

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