The eight confirmed victims included five who died in a single vehicle, said 1st Sgt. Dave Bursten of the Indiana State Police. Four of the victims were Amish residents northern Indiana who were passengers in a car.
While the Amish typically do not drive motor vehicles, it is common practice here for Amish workers to hire a driver to take them to work. LaGrange County has one of the largest Amish populations in the country.
The 6:45 a.m. crash about 25 miles east of South Bend occurred when the driver of a semitrailer rear-ended another vehicle and started a chain reaction crash involving two other semitrailers and four cars that had slowed near a construction area, said state police Sgt. Trent Smith.
He said it was unclear why the semi driver didn't brake as he approached the area.
"At this point we don't know the reason. He did not slow down," Smith said, adding, "It's one of the worst accidents that we've had up here."
Smith said five of the victims died in a van but that the van's driver survived the crash.
CBS affiliate WSBT correspondent Ed Ernstes witnessed a van totally lodged and compressed under one of the semis.
Smith said two of the fatalities were people riding in a sport utility vehicle, and the eighth victim was the driver of a pickup truck.
The accident occurred in the tollway's westbound lanes about 1½ miles before the start of a construction site where highway workers are rebuilding a bridge. Traffic had come to a standstill in the right lane and was moving slowly into the left lane.
Warning signs were posted along the highway up to three miles from where the construction site began.