Tampa, Florida -- The Florida Highway Patrol has released its own report about January'sdeadly accident along 1-75 near Gainesville that left 11 people dead.
Photo Gallery:AlachuaCounty Pileup
FHPyou may remember, wasstrongly criticized in a report this past April from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.FDLEcited communication breakdowns and a lack of specific policies to deal with road closures on major highways.
As we reported on April 26,theFDLEreport began with a foreboding conversation eight hours before the fiery wreck, in whichone 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. TheFDLEreport finds no such briefing took place, and that there was "inaccurate information" about the fire being in "Putnam County," notAlachua, and along "US 301" instead of where the smoke was truly coming from -a fire onPaynesPrairie.
The report says thePaynesPrairie fire was something that"nobody said anything about".
GretlPlessinger, a spokesperson for theFDLEsays while mistakes were made, "the investigation showed no criminal intent".
"The employees working that night thought they were doing the appropriate thing," saidPlessinger.
TheFDLEreport goes on to cite a radio exchange during whichFHPLt. JohnGourleydecides to re-open Interstate 75, which had been shut down because of smoke. The order comes despite concerns ofFHPSgt. BruceSimmons.
"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.
Gourleytold 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 441to the east of I-75 remained shut down due to smoke, Lt.Gourleytold 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.
InFHP'sown report, released Friday, the agency conceded many points made by theFDLE, 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 theFDLEin 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.
FHPalso 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:
TheFDLEreport 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.
FHPadmits they've got some improvements in training and policy to make, but that those changes are all either underway or already completed.