GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Minutes before two pileups killed 10 people on a highway shrouded in fog and thick smoke from a brush fire, the Florida Highway Patrol had reopened the always busy six-lane interstate after an earlier serious accident.
A sergeant and lieutenant determined after about three hours that conditions had cleared enough for drivers, but visibility quickly became murky again, officials said Monday.
“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 motorhome collided at 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 in calls to 911. Eighteen survivors were hospitalized.
Late Monday, the highway patrol said seven people died and at least 16 people were injured after 10 vehicles crashed in the northbound lanes of the highway, the first of two multiple-vehicle pileups along I-75.
The vehicles crashed about 4 a.m. after driving in heavy smoke that made it hard to see. 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 the seventh crash fatality.
Jose and Adriana Carmo’s daughter, Lidiane, 15, survived the crash, Amazonas said.
The Florida Forest Service said Monday it still had not determined if the fire was intentionally set or accidental, although lightning has been ruled out.