John Gourley of the Florida Highway Patrol and the FHP’s training and bad weather policies as a whole are under investigation in connection to a series of U.S. 441 and Interstate 75 car accidents that occurred on a foggy January morning earlier this year, according to news reports. It is not clear whether Gourley remains on the job pending the outcome of the investigation. It is also not known whether family of the 11 people killed that day plan on pursuing legal action against the FHP.
According to reports, visibility on the morning of January 29 was obstructed by fog along I-75. Reports indicate that after patrolling the area, Gourley decided to reopen the roads, as they appeared clear. He did, however, apparently tell a colleague that he and the other troopers needed to keep an eye on the area. Sources say that Gourley did not consult the National Weather Service low visibility occurrence risk index, known as LVORI, which purportedly indicated low visibility that morning.
The resulting accident killed nearly a dozen people. Semi-trucks, SUVs, and cars ended up piled up in a mangled heap on the side of the highway, their drivers blinded by a combination of fog and smoke from a nearby brush fire. 21 people escaped with their lives but had to be treated for injuries. These survivors apparently told the press that they could not see anything but could hear the sounds of people screaming for help as they sat trapped in their vehicles.
Reports indicate the FHP had a large gap in LVORI training between 2008 and 2012, but that it had provided LVORI training to individuals such as Gourley. However, Gourley has evidently told the press that he only received information about LVORI, not any actual training, and that he did not know how to use it. FHP reportedly began training the FHP in LVORI following a series of similar accidents in 2008, where a combination of fog and smoke caused dozens of accidents. However, after a brief period of stepping up LVORI training in May 2008, reports claim that training ended and did not resume until February 2, 2012, four days after the I-75 crashes. Sources say that between February 2 and March 20 of this year, 145 troopers have received LVORI training.
This lapse in training and effective use of LVORI may lead to lawsuits by those injured or those who lost loved ones in the I-75 crashes. According to a Florida State Senator, the accidents that occurred on I-75 show a failure of the FHP to implement highway closure and training policies. The senator was quoted as saying, “we aren’t doing something right … and perhaps the highway patrol needs to revisit the entire process so that hopefully this doesn’t happen again.”
A Florida state senator also speculated that the lapse in training might have been due to funding issues. The senator claimed that budget should not have been a hamper in this case, reportedly telling the press, “if it’s money, they should have come back and asked us like they do every year.”
Gourley reportedly countered this claim by stating that the LVORI would not have prevented the crashes. Sources say that he claimed the LVORI that night was at level six, and that a level of seven was required to shut down the roads. Regardless, the FHP turned down the offer to comment on the gap in LVORI training.