April 26, 2012
A report released by Florida state investigators Thursday is faulting the Florida Highway Patrol for reopening a foggy stretch of I-75 that was later the scene of of a series of crashes that killed 11 people on Jan. 29.The report reveals that one Florida trooper, Patrol Sgt. Bruce Simmons, wanted to keep the highway closed due to heavy fog and smoke that had blanketed the road. His superior, Lt. John Gourley instead gave the order to reopen it because visibility had improved and he was concerned that keeping the highway closed also would be dangerous, says the Associated Press.Within 30 minutes of reopening the road, a series of six crashes began, involving more than a dozen cars, pickup trucks and a van, six semitrailer trucks and a motorhome. A few vehicles burst into flames, making it difficult to identify the dead, AP reports. Eighteen people were hospitalized.The report faults the Highway Patrol but did not find any criminal violations. It said the Highway Patrol failed to create and implement effective guidelines for situations such as these and that troopers did not adequately share critical information among themselves prior to the crashes taking place. The report does say, however, that other governmental agencies, including the Florida Forest Service and Florida Department of Transportation, supported Gourley's decision to reopen the road.Once the road reopened, the report says, the Highway Patrol "failed to actively monitor the highway conditions."The report suggests that the Highway Patrol clarify its procedures and adopt mandatory protocols instead of just suggesting guidelines. It also recommended the state improve roadway signage warning for motorists. Click here for video footage of the crash.