The cause of a deadly pileup involving at least 70 cars and trucks caught in whiteout conditions in Germantown, Wis., might never be known.
But stunning video of the precise moment the pileup began serves as a warning to drivers to slow down in snowy, icy conditions and -- perhaps as important -- to stay in their vehicles until help arrives.
The video released by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation shows traffic traveling on southbound Highway 41/45 in Germantown on Sunday. Traffic inexplicably begins backing up, and cars slide out of control.
Cars continue to barrel down the roadway as motorists who appear to be driving too fast for the dangerous road conditions continue speeding into the area and then hit the brakes.
At about 50 seconds into the video above, you can see one car slide completely off the highway and into brush along the side as the motorist swerves to avoid hitting anyone.
At least one man succumbed to injuries suffered in the pileup, which was just one of several serious traffic accidents in the area that day due to bad weather.
Motorists involved in the pileup often leaped from their vehicles to inspect the damage, warn other motorists, or, in some cases, to take pictures.
All those instincts are bad, officials said, urging motorists either to find a way to drive out of the area slowly and safely and report the accident to law enforcement or to remain inside the disabled vehicle until help arrives.
Authorities told the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel that local law enforcement was pressed to the limit trying to handle the competing emergencies and said they are still trying to sort all the accidents out. In all, at least three people died due to traffic accidents that day.
Those tragedies are taking up the bulk of law enforcement attention. As for the fender benders and and more serious car damage? It might never be sorted out, officials said.
Some of those involved aren’t even sure of what other cars they hit, “they were crashing and spinning out,” Germantown Police Chief Peter Hoell told local media. The cause of the crash may never be known, he added, so “it would be difficult to issue a citation” or take anyone to court.