Ellenton, Florida -- One person died, several people were hurt and multiple vehicles were damaged Friday afternoon, when a truck driver could not stop for traffic and struck a car in the northbound lanes of Interstate 75.
The fiery crash happened about 4:30 p.m. at the north end of the bridge over the Manatee River when investigators say a tractor-trailer driven by 61-year-old Wadel Jones was unable to stop for backed-up traffic and rear-ended a vehicle, triggering a domino effect of accidents.
"We just heard boom and everyone looked this way. We head a line of sight. It was ridiculous," says Todd Farnum, who heard the crash while at Woody's River Roo Pub & Grill, on the river just east of I-75. "I heard a smash and looked over and seen flames."
"I was over there on the property where dock comes out," says Dakota Stewart, who heard crash.
The Florida Highway Patrol reports the first vehicle struck by the tractor trailer, a van driven by 24-year-old Chad Boron, spun counter-clockwise before hitting a concrete barrier wall. The tractor trailer continued traveling north, where it then rear-ended a Lincoln Navigator SUV and sideswiped a Ford Fusion that was stopped on the shoulder of the road.
The Navigator crashed into the side wall of the bridge and became engulfed in flames, killing the driver. The driver has not been identified at this time.
The chain-reaction crash continued as the tractor trailer went on to hit two other vehicles.
"The truck was unable to stop in time and it collided with several vehicles. We had five vehicles involved in this event including the semi trailer which makes six," says Ken Watson, with the Florida Highway Patrol.
The truck driver and a passenger in the van were taken to Manatee Memorial Hospital with serious injuries. Other minor injuries were reported.
For hours, northbound traffic on the interstate was backed up for miles, all the way to University Parkway in Sarasota. The northbound lanes were reopened just after 9 p.m.
The Department of Transportation was called to make sure the bridge was not damaged.
Troopers say the chain-reaction crash is a reminder of what can happen on the highway.
"When you're behind wheel, you have got to be paying attention. No texting, no driving" says Watson.