11 Die in I-75 Chain-Reaction Crash in Florida: How Could It Have Been Avoided?
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on February 8th, 2012
Blinded by smoke from a large brush fire combined with fog in the early-morning darkness, the drivers of at least a dozen cars, six tractor-trailers and a motorhome crashed in a chain-reaction collision on Interstate 75 near Gainesville, Fla., late last month, killing 11 victims.
Now the questions begin – did the Florida Highway Patrol, which had closed the highway three hours earlier due to the smoke and fog, re-open the highway too soon?
And if the brush fire was intentionally set, which investigators are considering, who was responsible for the blaze and for the 11 deaths?
The devastating death toll, which is believed to be the worst single-incident traffic accident death toll in the state’s history, came after the highway patrol determined that “conditions had cleared enough for drivers, but visibility quickly became murky again,” according to an Associated Press story. “Florida Gov. Rick Scott has ordered an investigation into that decision,” the story reported.
“We went through the area. We made an assessment. We came to the conclusion that the road was safe to travel and that is when we opened the road up,” Highway patrol spokesman Lt. Patrick Riordan said in a news conference, according to AP. “Drivers have to recognize that the environment changes. They have to be prepared to make good judgments.”
The 3:45 a.m. crash on Jan. 29 was horrific, involving at least a dozen cars, six tractor-trailers and a motorhome, according to the story. Vehicles were crushed by the trucks, others burst into flames and shrapnel was sent flying, the story reported. Eighteen survivors were sent to local hospitals for treatment of various injuries.
So now what?
Lawsuits will certainly be filed by survivors and by the families of the dead, but it will be a while until all the facts of the incident are revealed and the scenario of the carnage can be fully understood.
In the meantime, a report by WESH-TV in Winter Park, Fla., identified the area of the deadly crash, between Ocala and Gainesville, as a “technological black hole for drivers” because it lacks real-time video cameras and smart message boards that can warn drivers of dangerous conditions or accidents ahead. Other state highways already have such devices, including video cameras that are part of the state’s Intelligent Transportation System (ITS), the story reported. One of the strengths of ITS is that it can see in the dark and pass such information on to message boards to alert drivers, according to WESH.
“From the ITS Orlando headquarters, employees and troopers can look out for drivers who need help, debris in the roadway and dangerous weather conditions,” Florida Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Olson told WESH. “We’re trying to eliminate those surprises with ITS.”
Florida officials now say they will evaluate their protocols that allowed the state police to re-open the highway just before the fatal crashes, according to a story by the Associated Press. “The Highway Patrol was also quick to point out that motorists must be prepared to quickly make good decisions because road conditions can change quickly.”
Certainly, it’s true that drivers have to evaluate road and weather conditions as they operate motor vehicles on the roads. But in this case, drivers were stopped from moving by law enforcement officers, who were being trusted to determine when and if they should move again during the smoke and fog conditions. Once drivers were allowed to again travel, why should they have believed that dangers still existed?
The decision to close the Interstate in the first place was “made by a Highway Patrol supervisor, who relies on feedback from troopers who assess road conditions,” according to AP. “They use information and forecasts from the National Weather Service (NWS). A key piece of information is an index estimating the humidity and smoke dispersion on a scale of 1 to 10. If the score is 7 or higher, the Highway Patrol’s protocol is to close the road.”
That morning, the NWS “index score for early Sunday had been forecast to be a 6 in the four-county region that includes the crash site,” the story reported.
A close call, for sure.
We hope that the procedures and protocols for road closures are evaluated thoroughly and changed if they are found to be out-of-date or inadequate.
The families of those who were killed or injured are just beginning their legal fights for compensation and damages due to this horrible incident. Like anyone involved in a serious vehicle accident, they will find that they need to obtain competent, professional, experienced and caring legal representation as they head down this road.
Only by bringing in a qualified, professional legal team can you investigate and learn the facts of the case and make appropriate decisions and set legal strategy to recover damages and compensation for your losses. That’s where legal teams like we have here at MyPhillyLawyer come in to assist you.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and families of this devastating incident as they work to rebuild their lives.