An investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on last January’s deadly I-75 pile-up. The department has concluded that the Florida Highway Patrol lieutenant that ordered the reopening of I-75 while it was still shrouded in fog and smoke was not familiar with the agency’s procedures for the opening and closing of roads and had no formal training. The road had been closed earlier for the same reasons.
The investigation reported that a Florida Highway Patrol Sergeant voiced concerns over re-opening a stretch of I-75 that had been closed earlier due to a combination of excessive fog and smoke from a nearby brush fire. However, Florida Highway Patrol Lt. John Gurley overruled him, allegedly because the lieutenant was worried that keeping the highway closed could also be dangerous.
With a dozen cars, pickup trucks, a van, six tractor-trailers and a motorhome involved in the pile-up, the accident became one of the deadliest ever in Florida’s roads. As a result 11 people were killed and 18 people were injured.
Among the dead were a 43-year-old Brazilian pastor, Jose Carmo Jr., his 39-year-old wife, Arianna and their 17-year-old daughter, Leticia. Deceased also was Carmo’s 38-year-old brother, Edson, and the brother’s 41-year-old girlfriend, Roselia DeSilva. They were all traveling in a van returning to Kennesaw, Ga., from an Orlando church retreat.
Another group of victims was traveling in a pickup truck from Pensacola to Sarasota for a relative’s funeral. Included in the group were 17-year-old Sabryna Hughes Gilley; her 39-year-old father, Michael Hughes and her 46-year-old stepmother, Lori Lynne Brock-Hughes.
Additionally, a 22-year-old resident of Williston, Vontavia Robinson, died after his car rear-ended the back of pickup truck that had slammed into a tractor-trailer stopped in the center southbound lane.
Finally, a Toyota Matrix driven by 26-year-old Jason Lee Raikes, and his girlfriend, 27-year-old Christie Diana Nguyen, crashed in the northbound lanes. Both Jason and Christie died in the crash.
State Legislators Question FHP Decisions
State Representative Keith Perry, a Republican from Gainsville, expressed concern over the fact that despite the prevalent bad conditions, no one from the Florida Highway Patrol stayed on the scene once the road was re-opend. As stated before, that stretch of I-75 had been closed several hours early on January 29 due to heavy smoke from a nearby brushfire. The smoke seemed to clear at about 3:34 a.m. and FHP Lt. John Gourley decided to open the road to traffic. Troopers left immediately thereafter. However, a new bank of smoke and fog moved in around 4:00 a.m., reducing visibility to zero. Given these conditions, a deadly series of crashes ensued on both the northbound and the southbound lanes, costing the lives of those mentioned above and injuries to 18 other.
Additionally, State Senator Steve Oelrich, a Republican for Cross Creek and a former law enforcement officer himself, stated that he believes that inadequate FHP staffing would explain why certain protocols were not followed. Moreover, Oelrich believes that the Florida Highway Patrol was under pressure to keep the road open because it is so heavily traveled.
The FDLE has recommended mandatory steps to evaluate the information used to close roads, to increase communication with meteorologists and other technical experts so that the Florida Highway Patrol can make better decisions and to establish a clear chain of command.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, you should immediately contact a law firm experienced in handling these cases. With more than 70 years of combined experience handling car accidents and tractor-trailer accident cases resulting in catastrophic injuries and wrongful death, the attorneys at Greenberg Stone and Urbano recently handled a case against the Florida Department of Transportation and the Daytona Beach Fire Department in which a controlled fire resulted in smoke that shrouded a highway causing several accidents. We successfully settled our case prior to trial and we were able to secure for our clients the compensation they deserved.
Throughout the years, the Miami Dade County Truck Accidents Law Offices of Greenberg Stone and Urbano have represented many clients involved in traffic fatalities resulting in serious personal injuries and wrongful death. Visit our website to learn more about our firm and contact us today for a free consultation.
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