TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/AP) – Human error led to a series of crashes on I-75 near Gainesville last January which claimed lives of 11 people.
According to a report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, a Florida Highway Patrol lieutenant didn’t have any formal training or know the procedures before he re-opened a fog- and smoke-shrouded highway. The concluded troopers made errors but found no criminal violations.
Early in the morning of Jan. 29, wildfire smoke mixed with fog blanketed the interstate highway where it cut through Paynes Prairie State Park, a low area that lacks billboards or other lighting.
Highway Patrol Sgt. Bruce Simmons was concerned about reopening, but Lt. John Gourley gave the order because he was worried keeping the highway closed also would be dangerous.
At least a dozen cars, pickup trucks and a van, six semitrailer trucks and a motorhome collided in six separate fatal crashes. Some vehicles burst into flames, making it difficult to identify the dead.
Eighteen other victims were hospitalized.
“I tried to tell them to leave that ‘Sum … buck closed and they wouldn’t listen to me,” Simmons told a sheriff’s deputy in a conversation captured on Simmons’ in-car video equipment.
“I said it will roll in faster than you can shut it down,” Simmons continued. “This crap wouldn’t have happened if he’d have listened.”
The report faulted the Highway Patrol for failing to create and implement effective guidelines for such situations and said troopers failed to adequately share critical information among themselves just before the crashes occurred. Once traffic resumed flowing, the Highway Patrol failed to actively monitor the highway conditions, the report said.
The report recommends the Highway Patrol clarify procedures in its policy manual and adopt mandatory protocols rather than merely suggesting guidelines. It also called for the state to improve roadway signage warning travelers of hazards that may lie ahead.
The Florida Legislature already has appropriated $4 million for visibility evaluation equipment and signage to alert travelers on all Florida interstates.
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