Eleven people were killed in multiple, near-simultaneous motor vehicle accidents on I-75 earlier this year. With drivers blinded by smoke and fog, there were a total of six separate crashes involving about 20 different vehicles -- cars, trucks, vans, semi-trucks and a motorhome -- and eighteen more people were injured and taken to the hospital.
A smoldering wildfire combined with fog in the early morning hours of January 29, to reduce visibility for travelers on Florida's I-75 and resulted in a three-hour highway closure. Although Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) individuals on the scene disagreed on whether the interstate should be reopened, Lieutenant John Gourley gave the directive to do so. About 30 minutes later, the fatal motor vehicle accidents occurred.
The Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida Forest Service agreed with Gourley's decision to reopen the roadway. There was concern that the dangers presented by closing I-75 for a longer period outweighed the risks of reopening the interstate. The most appropriate detour, U.S. 441, was already closed, leaving a small two-lane highway that passed through a small town and was ill-equipped to handle interstate traffic as the only rerouting option.
Among the problems noted in the FDLE's review of problems that contributed to the fatal car accidents were a lack of:
- Continued monitoring of the visibility situation on I-75
- Mandatory, rather than suggested protocols, for dealing with similar situations
- Roadway signage alerting drivers to the dangers ahead
In the wake of the I-75 tragedy, the Florida Legislature has allocated $4 million to improve signage and alert systems on all Florida roadways.
Source: NBC Miami, "FDLE: Troopers Made Errors in I-75 Crash That Killed 11," April 26, 2012