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Crash or fall at freeway interchange?

Authorities say two people lucky not to have been hurt worse

Police and firefighters are so far sure of just one thing: The two occupants of an SUV that apparently tumbled down a freeway embankment Monday were fortunate not to have been more seriously hurt.

First-responders were whisked at 11:45 a.m. Monday to the spot in La Salle where the Interstate 39 lanes pass directly overhead the I-80 lanes. There, a silver sport-utility vehicle sustained extensive front-end damage and there was no evidence it hit another car.

The preliminary explanation: The driver veered off I-39 southbound and rolled down the embankment elevating the southbound lanes above I-80. The vehicle’s nose-first damage suggested it hit the ground rolling down the slope of the embankment.

“I don’t know the exact details as far as what caused it or how they ended up where they did,” La Salle fire chief Andy Bacidore said this morning. “I think they’re lucky to just get away with the injuries they did.”

It was a quick extrication. Bacidore said the two occupants had already been freed from the vehicle by the time he arrived on scene and both were alert and responsive, signaling to him the injuries were not life-threatening.

An accident reconstruction is pending and state police had not released the names of the occupants before press time today.

Preliminary reports had suggested the SUV drove, rolled or fell off of the I-39 overpass onto westbound I-80, somehow managing not to strike a passing car on I-80 westbound. A LifeFlight helicopter landed at the scene and was in the air with at least one patient by 12:17 p.m.

The crash caused significant backup on I-80 westbound, as traffic was funneled into the passing lane and left shoulder while workers extricated the two occupants and removed the vehicle. Illinois Department of Transportation and firefighters were directing motorists past the scene near the median. Notably, there was no roof damage to the SUV, reducing the likelihood it overturned during its otherwise-unusual trajectory.

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