Multiple crash on Florida's Turnpike kills five - POLICE REPORT ADDED

March 17, 2007
By Peter Samuel

Fog and excessive speed were blamed for a series of crashes around Mile Marker (MM) 208 on Florida's Turnpike Tuesday morning March 13, but poor management was a major factor too. Alarming is the smugness of the police and the ineffectuality of hightech ITS signage that is touted to assist motorists with immediate warning of hazards like a wreck in the roadway. Florida's Turnpike has given frequent presentations of the power of its 24/7 operations centers, their fiberoptic communications backbone and their many variable message signs and highway patrols.

The first crash at 8:22am southbound produced no injury. A policeman was quickly on the scene because he happened to be nearby writing a ticket to a speeding motorist he had pulled over and actually heard the crash. For 22 minutes this crash blocked travel lanes on the Turnpike and police and operations staff were unable to communicate the hazard to motorists driving down the Turnpike. Only then at 8:44 and 8:45 did the serious crashes occur as multiple vehicles piled into the mess left by the 8:22 crash.

The pile-up killed five people and involved eleven vehicles including cars, straightbody trucks, tractor trailers, and emergency vehicles.

The Turnpike was subsequently closed for most of the day on the long interchange-poor stretch between Yeehaw Junction (MM193 at US60 IC) and St Cloud (MM242 at US192). Four hospital helicopters and large numbers of emergency vehicles together with heavy equipment was used in response.

Visibility was reduced - 300ft according to Sgt Delahoz of the Florida highway Patrol - due to morning fog which combined with the smoke from many days of brushfires.

The accident occurred in the wild section of countryside east of Lake Kissimmee in Osceola Co on the run in (northward) into the Orlando area from the Atlantic coast.

First priority in a small crash with no injuries is to stop or slow to a safe speed oncoming traffic in order to prevent precisely the kind of secondary and tertiary pile-ons that occurred.

Florida Highway Patrol's Sgt Jorge Delahoz says police did everything they could to prevent the follow-on collisions. He says motorists traveling into the area of poor visibility saw four variable message signs (VMS) warning LOW VISIBILITY AHEAD. Three were portable trailer signs by the side of the road and one was a permanent over-the-road gantry sign.

Why we asked didn't the signs say "ACCIDENT AHEAD", "STOPPED VEHICLES IN ROAD" since there was almost 22 minutes between the first non-injury accident that caused vehicles to be blocking the travel lanes and the two pile-on accidents that killed five people.

Delahoz says the portable VMSs can only be reprogrammed by driving to them in a police cruiser and manually reprogramming them. As for the big over-the-road gantry sign couldn't the police have called in by radio to get that programmed to warn there was a far greater hazard than just low visibility in the roadway ahead - that there were crashed vehicles blocking the lanes.

Delahoz claims the vehicles that crashed at 8:44 and 8:45 would have gone past the gantry-borne VMS by the time of the initial crash (8:22). If they were traveling at 80mph given that the initial crash was 22 minutes earlier they would have been 29 miles back, if at 60mph 22 miles back. The Turnpike says it has 20 such VMS signs along 312 miles of Turnpike which means they should be an average of 16 miles apart. If they were evenly spaced that would be more than sufficient to allow the second and third bunches of vehicles to be warned CRASH AHEAD AT MM208 and VEHICLES BLOCK ROAD. We're asking about that again.

Sgt Delahoz argues that those involved were fully responsible for the deaths because they either didn't wear seatbelts or were driving too fast and paying too little heed to the poor visibility signs.

True, but it is also true that these are not capital crimes and better management of the roadway by police and operations staff could have saved their lives. Drivers were given no warning of a blocked roadway which could have prevented the second and third crashes.

With a crash blocking travel lanes 22 minutes is surely more than enough time to lay out flares, and activate warning signs about the crash and vehicles blocking the roadway.

Having suffered through a number of full-of-hype ITS conference presentations on the great life-saving potentialities of these operations centers and their "dynamic" or variable message signs it is important to report how useless they often seem to be in the real world! Of course they are very powerful in conveying messages such as REPORT SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY or just when you were thinking it might be alright to take a doze at the wheel you are reminded STAY ALERT.

Police statements that lower speed is the answer to low visibility are naive. How much lower speed? Drivers eyesight and reaction time varies. At 300ft visibility 60mph may be safe for one driver but 40mph for another. With drivers having different abilities to cope some will naturally slow more than others. The very act of slowing down may be rewarded with a collision from the rear. Poor visibility will cause motorists speeds to vary far more than normal and this in itself creates more hazards.

Maybe lower posted speeds would help on the gantry VMS signs if more regular lower speeds could be enforced. The New Jersey Turnpike has done that for many years with its variable message gantry signs.

"We can't hold everyone's hand as they drive down the road"

Patrol officer Delahoz told us several times: "I can't hold everyone's hand when they are driving down the road."

True, but if the Florida Highway Patrol and the Turnpike operations people don't see the possibility for doing better than they did at MM208 in 22 minutes between the time of a no-injury crash blocking lanes and the subsequent pile-on crashes that killed five people and closed the highway for the rest of the day, then it is the Florida Highway Patrol's smugness about their performance and it is deficiencies in their procedures and training and equipment that remain a real hazard on the Florida's Turnpike.

If they want to save lives rather than moralize about motorists' deficiencies the Florida Highway Patrol and Turnpike Operations should be asking what they could have done better than they did in the 22 minutes 8:22 to 8:44. That is our editorial comment.

We are grateful for their report below.

Police report of the crash

Here is the full police report of the crash provided by Sgt Delahoz (very minor editing on our part):

Crash number 1

The first crash was at 8:22AM. Four vehicles no deaths. (Southbound on the Turnpike at Mile Marker 208.)

Vehicle One is a 2001, Kenworth Tractor Trailer, Driven by Jose Rosado Hernandez, H/M, Dob 4-09-1977, Orlando FL. No injury.

Vehicle Two is a 2006, Hino, Tractor Trailer driven by Suzanne E Buckland, W/F, Dob 8-24-62, Houston TX. No injury.

Vehicle Three is a 1992, Dodge, pick-up truck, driven by Benjamin J. Mattison, W/M, Dob 8-9-1976, Ocala, FL. No injury

Vehicle Four is a 2006, Chevrolet, pick-up Driven by Jessse E Darsch, W/M, Dob 8-3-1987, Orlando, FL No injury.

Synopsis:

All four vehicles were in the right lane Southbound. V-4 had slowed because of poor visibility as he was traveling southbound on the Turnpike. V-3 traveling behind V-4, and also slowed because of poor visibility. V-1 slammed into the rear of V-3 pushing the front of V-3 into the rear of V-4. after the initial impact V-3 rotated counter clockwise into the left lane. V-2 moved from the right lane to the left lane and passed V-1 on the left. V-2 then struck V-3 who had rotated into the left lane after colliding with V-1 and V-4. All vehicles came to final rest in the right lane and the southbound shoulder. Charges are pending against driver of V-1

Crash number 2

Time of Crash 8:44am, southbound on the Turnpike at Mile Marker 208. This crash involves, a patrol car, a fire truck, 3 semi trucks, an SUV, and a car.

5 people were killed as a result of this crash.

Vehicles

Semi hauling logs is a 1994, Peterbilt, driver was killed at the scene. Driven By Jimmy Daugherty, W/M, DOB 06-06-1939, Gainesville, FL. Pronounced dead at scene.

Semi Hauling Soda and water is a 2000, Freightliner Driven by Julio Antonio Espinosa, H/M, DOB 1-10-1966, Bartow, FL. No injury Passenger Maida Mullet, W/F, DOB 4-25-1951, Bartow, FL. Minor Injury. transported treated and released.

Flatbed semi 2002, Mack. Driven by Robert Allen Pyne, W/M, DOB 1-1-1965,Wildwood, FL, No injury.

Firetruck Not Occupied, 2005, Pierce Fire Truck

Police car was a 2006, Ford Crown Vic. Driven by Deputy Marcus Bryan, W/M, 35 years old.

SUV is a 2006, Chevrolet trailblazer. Driver was deceased. Driver Anita Zoet, W/F, dob 9-13-1938. Boynton Beach, FL. Pronounced dead at the scene.

BMW is a 1998, 750IL, Silver in Color Driven by Giannino Mazzaro, W/M, DOB 7-10-38, Kissimmee, FL. Wearing seatbelt. Critical at Holmes (hospital).

Front seat passenger Rosette Vanhooydonck, W/F, Dob 9-20-1947. Pronounced dead at scene.

Two rear seat passengers from Belgium also pronounced dead. No seatbelt. waiting on NOK to release names. W/M 41, W/F 50.

Synopsis:

Emergency personnel had responded to the scene of the first crash. The Osceola County Sheriffs vehicle was the first one behind the scene of the first crash. The Fire Truck from the Osceola County Fire Department had stopped behind the sheriffs vehicle to protect the scene and pedestrians from the earlier crash. A semi truck had stopped behind the fire truck loaded with soda and water. A second flatbed semi had stopped or slowed in the left lane.

A BMW with four occupants traveling southbound in the right lane, did not slow and was unable to stop. The driver swerved to the left but could not avoid the semi loaded with water and soda. The BMW struck the rear of the semi with the front of the BMW, and came to final rest in the left lane.

A Chevrolet Trailblazer, SUV, traveling behind the BMW also was unable to avoid hitting the rear of the stopped semi. It struck the rear of the semi with the left front of the SUV. The SUV then came to final rest on the west shoulder.

A Semi Tractor trailer loaded with logs was traveling behind the SUV in the right lane. The Semi slammed into the back of the Semi loaded with soda and water pushing the semi into the fire truck, and the fire truck into the patrol car. The Semi loaded with logs traveled to the left after the initial collision and also slammed into the flatbed semi in the left lane. The semi loaded with logs was then wedged between the flatbed semi and the semi loaded with soda and water. the firetruck was wedged between the log semi and the semi hauling water and soda.

Three occupants of the BMW were killed on impact. The driver was flown to Holmes regional medical center by helicopter, and remains critical.

The driver of the SUV was killed instantly, no other occupants.

The Osceola County Sheriffs Deputy was transported to Holmes Regional with serious but stable injury, by helicopter. No firefighters were injured.

The Driver of the Semi hauling logs was killed instantly.

The other two semi drivers were not injured. One female passenger was transported, treated and released.

The crash continues to be under investigation. I will update with names when available, and next of kin is made.

Crash Number 3

This was the final crash. Time of crash 8:45AM, southbound on the Turnpike at Mile Marker 208. This crash involves a straight truck pulling a concession trailer.

Vehicle one is a 2003, Ford, Box truck, Pulling a concession trailer. Driven by David B. Milligan, W/M, Dob 7-27-1976, Clearfield, PA. No injury.

Synopsis:

The driver was southbound in the right lane. He could see the pile-up occurring in his path. He swerved to the right off the roadway onto the shoulder located to the right of the crash. His truck and trailer jackknifed on the shoulder, and the trailer overturned. His truck came to final rest on the shoulder and was struck by debris from the first crash.

Driver(s) should always slow down in heavy fog, smoke, rain and anytime visibility is reduced. Two of the deaths in these crashes could definitely have been prevented by seatbelts being used.

Sergeant Jorge (George) Delahoz

Florida Highway Patrol - Troop K / Orlando TOLLROADSnews 2007-03-16 - followup to a piece cobbled together from newspaper and TV reports 2007-03-13


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