The Florida Highway Patrol is still defending its’ decision to reopen I-75 just before an 18-vehicle pileup sent 10 people to their graves in late January. The highway patrol had been drawing extreme criticism for its’ decision to reopen the stretch of highway, which had been closed just 15 minutes before the accident because of low visibility due to fog and smoke from a nearby brush fire.
Meanwhile, funeral services for the nearly dozen deceased have all but wrapped, leaving family members and friends at a loss of what to do. A criminal investigation is pending as authorities try to determine if the brush fire was set purposefully. If it was and the perpetrator is caught, he or she could be charged with multiple counts of manslaughter. Others suspect that family members of the deceased may try to sue the Florida Highway Patrol for wrongful death because of its’ decision to reopen the road.
The Gainesville car accident disaster occurred in the early morning hours of January 29th. The highway had been closed until around 3:30 a.m., when the Florida Highway Patrol said that the fog and smoke had cleared. However, conditions apparently deteriorated fast after they reopened the stretch, and a quarter of an hour later visibility was reportedly near zero, according to the patrol as well as drivers who were at the scene.
The ensuing pileup involved 12 cars and 6 tractor-trailers, including a mobile home, as well as one tour bus. Survivors say that the accident seemed like “the end of the world,” with vehicles bursting into flames and people screaming as they died trapped in their cars. Rescuers said later that visibility was so bad that they could not even find survivors in the nearly mile-long disaster zone by sight and had to rely on listening for screams and calls for help.
The fire burned so hot that parts of 1-75 actually melted, according to reports. The northbound lanes of 1-75 finally reopened at around 5:30 p.m. on the 29th.
Steven R. Camps of Gainesville, one of the survivors of the accident, described the scene to reporters. “You could hear cars hitting each other. People were crying. People were screaming. It was crazy,” he said. He told the press that traffic stopped and that a friend called him to tell him that the road looked really bad. Camps says he was talking to a man in the car next to him as they waited to clear when a vehicle slammed into the man’s car from behind, crushing it under the semi-truck that was stopped in front of him.
Camps says that his car was then hit twice, and that he and another friend fled the vehicle and headed for the shoulder, fearing for their lives as vehicles burst into flames and exploded around them. “It was happening on both sides of the road, so there was nowhere to go. It blew my mind… it looked like someone was picking up cars and throwing them.” Othe