Smoke and several crashes closed Interstate 75 in both directions between mile markers 374 and 382 in Alachua County.
Tampa, Florida -- The Florida Highway Patrol has released its own report about January's deadly accident along 1-75 near Gainesville that left 11 people dead.
Photo Gallery: Alachua County Pileup
FHP you may remember, was strongly criticized in a report this past April from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.FDLE cited communication breakdowns and a lack of specific policies to deal with road closures on major highways.
As we reported on April 26, the FDLE report began with a foreboding conversation eight hours before the fiery wreck, in which one trooper advises another to relay the smoke danger to the overnight shift.
"We don't want major accidents," says the first trooper.
"We'll take care of it," says the other.
But it wasn't taken care of. The FDLE report finds no such briefing took place, and that there was "inaccurate information" about the fire being in "Putnam County," not Alachua, and along "US 301" instead of where the smoke was truly coming from - a fire onPaynes Prairie.
The report says the Paynes Prairie fire was something that "nobody said anything about".
Gretl Plessinger, a spokesperson for the FDLE says while mistakes were made, "the investigation showed no criminal intent".
"The employees working that night thought they were doing the appropriate thing," said Plessinger.
The FDLE report goes on to cite a radio exchange during whichFHP Lt. John Gourley decides to re-open Interstate 75, which had been shut down because of smoke. The order comes despite concerns of FHP Sgt. Bruce Simmons.
"I'm concerned that another cloud might roll through," saidSimmons, according to the report. "At this point I see no reason to keep it closed," replied Lt. Gourley.
Gourley told investigators he had no formal training in making such decisions, but that the objective was to re-open the road to traffic as quickly as they could safely do so.
Since Highway 441 to the east of I-75 remained shut down due to smoke, Lt. Gourley told investigators he felt there was a need to open a north-south corridor to traffic.
Wildfire smoke mixed with fog, created conditions on the road where there was literally no visibility in the darkness of the early morning hours.
In FHP's own report, released Friday, the agency conceded many points made by the FDLE, but also said that even if most of the recommendations had been in place at the time the fast-changing smoke conditions that night may have produced the exact same result.
The report said in part:
The rapidly changing conditions that morning in such a localized area could not be predicted with any degree of reliability. Even if each of the recommendations made by the FDLE in its incident review were to have been present or occurred that night, it is probable the same decision would have been reached. Also, no amount of planning or policy will take the place of driver reaction to low visibility and unpredictable conditions.
FHP also placed more blame on the drivers themselves. They say several had alcohol or drugs in their systems, while some simply stopped unsafely in the middle of the road.
The report said in part:
The FDLE report addresses the policy, procedures and training relative to this event. Driver behavior, which was not addressed, contributed to the crashes. Drivers of vehicles are responsible for adapting to roadway conditions, including weather, in accordance with Florida Statutes. The investigations of the crashes that occurred during the 4:00 a.m. hour determined that the smoke rapidly reduced visibility and, in response, some drivers stopped in the roadway. Despite the presence of Fog/Smoke warning signs, some drivers did not take proper precautions and slow their speeds to prepare for reduced visibility. This reaction to environmental conditions warrants additional outreach for driver awareness. Also, drug/alcohol use was confirmed on the part of several of the drivers.
FHP admits they've got some improvements in training and policy to make, but that those changes are all either underway or already completed.