GAINESVILLE (CBSMiami/AP) — Fla. Gov. Rick Scott wants some answers in the wake of a deadly pileup on I-75 near Gainesville over the weekend. Gov. Scott has ordered an investigation into the Florida Highway Patrol’s decision to reopen an interstate highway shortly before the pileups that killed 10 people.
Scott on Monday ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the FHP’s decision and any other circumstances that led up to Sunday’s crashes on Interstate 75 outside of Gainesville.
The FHP had closed the road for more than three hours early Sunday after heavy smoke from a nearby brushfire and fog combined to make the highway impassable. Fifteen minutes after the highway reopened, the pileups happened, with survivors reporting smoke and fog so thick they couldn’t see.
The FHP earlier defended its decision, saying the visibility was clear enough but deteriorated rapidly.
“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. “Drivers have to recognize that the environment changes. They have to be prepared to make good judgments.”
At least a dozen cars, six tractor-trailers and a motor home collided about 3:45 a.m. Sunday. Some cars were crushed under the bellies of big rigs. Others burst into flames and sent metal shrapnel flying through the air, horrifying witnesses watching the violence along Interstate 75. Eighteen survivors were hospitalized.
In a 911 recording released Monday, a driver and her passengers told a dispatcher the fog and smoke from the 62-acre brush fire was so thick they couldn’t see.
“I think there was another accident behind us because I heard it,” a woman said. “Oh my gosh, it’s so dark here.”
In the same 911 call, another woman took the phone and screamed an expletive as she hears another crash.
“That was a truck. We cannot see. It’s like impossible to see,” the caller said. “The smoke is very thick you can see obviously only your hand in front. I do hear an ambulance or police officer coming down the road.”
Late Monday, the highway patrol named six of those who died in wrecks on the northbound side of the highway that involved 10 vehicles. Another multiple-vehicle pileup happened on the southbound side, but that detailed report has not been released yet.
Jason Lee Raikes, 26, of Richmond, Va., died in the crash, authorities said. They also said five out of six people riding in a 2012 Dodge Caravan died in the crash: Driver Edson Carmo, 38; Roselia DeSilva, 41; Jose Carmo Jr., 43; Adrianna Carmo, 39; and Leticia Carmo, 17; all of Kennesaw, Ga. The highway patrol did not immediately provide the identity of a seventh crash fatality.
Jose and Adriana Carmo were married and Leticia was their daughter, said Amazonas, the senior pastor at their church.
The van’s sixth occupant, the couple’s younger daughter, Lidiane, 15, survived the crash, Amazonas said. A hospital spokeswoman said Tuesday morning she was listed in critical condition.
The Carmos were in one van and other church members were in a second van. The passengers of that van called Amazonas after the accident to tell him what happened, he said.
About 100 people gathered Monday evening at the suburban Atlanta church, which caters to the local Brazilian community, to mourn the deaths of their fellow church members. People at the gathering wailed and wept as Amazonas addressed them in Portuguese.
Riordan declined to release the names of the two troopers who made the decision to reopen the highway or provide details on how long they had been with the patrol. He said no troopers have been disciplined but the investigation into the crash continues. National Transportation Safety Board officials said Monday they are sending investigators to the scene.
The Florida Forest Service said Monday it still had not determined if the brush fire was intentionally set or accidental, although lightning has been ruled out. Spokeswoman Ludie Bond said the fire is contained but was still burning. Firefighters are spraying water around its perimeter attempting to reduce the smoke.
Criminal defense attorneys said that if the fire was caused by arson, authorities likely will file charges of manslaughter and possibly felony murder, which is defined as a death that happens as result of participating in a felony.
“You can bet they will be,” said Brian Tannebaum, a former president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
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