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Cement truck overturns on I-275, punches hole in Pinellas Bayway ramp

ST. PETERSBURG

The Pinellas Bayway on-ramp onto northbound Interstate 275 will be closed until state engineers can repair the damage inflicted Monday by an overturned cement truck.

The Florida Department of Transportation hopes to have at least one lane open by Thursday evening. But first the state must repair the 28-foot scar in the road left by a cement truck exiting southbound I-275 that flipped over the center wall about 12:45 p.m.

The truck landed in the opposite lanes and its drum was thrown free. The cylinder tore a hole through the roadway while it skidded to a stop, spilling 30,000 pounds of cement that quickly hardened.

The DOT said that last year an average of 7,300 vehicles a day used that roadway.

"Engineers have to take a look at it and see how they're going to fix it and what it's going to cost," said DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson. "Then we'll bill the insurance company of the trucker."

The cement truck was destroyed but the driver was not seriously injured in the crash, which is being investigated by the Florida Highway Patrol.

There were no other wrecks or injuries in Monday's incident, but authorities believe there easily could have been. Imagine the drum of a concrete truck, filled with tens of thousands of pounds of wet cement, rolling down the ramp into oncoming traffic.

"It could have killed somebody," said St. Petersburg Fire Rescue Lt. Joel Granata. "If it had been a straight ramp it could have just gone rolling into traffic, especially the drum."

Instead, the drum smashed up against the curved divider and came to a stop. The gash left in the roadway is 6 feet at its widest point and 8 inches at its deepest. Officials could look through a hole cut into the road and see the swampland 40 to 50 feet below.

The $40,000 cement truck was headed west onto the ramp when it flipped over the wall. It landed on its wheels, facing east, on the other side of the divider. The eastbound ramp's left lane took the brunt of the damage, but the right lane was left relatively untouched.

The FHP identified the cement truck driver as Stanley Smith, 58, of Brandon. He was taken to Bayfront Medical Center and was reported in fair condition Monday night.

He could not be reached for comment. The truck's owner, Preferred Materials Inc. of Odessa, also could not be reached.

FHP Sgt. Larry Kraus said troopers will investigate whether excessive speed or driver error led to the crash. But sometimes a shifting load can be at fault. Vehicles that carry heavy loads can be thrown off course if they suddenly shift on the driver, he said.

"If it's a load shifting incident, there's really nothing a driver can do," Kraus said. "Sometimes with cement mixers, if the cement dries and shifts to one side, it will take them that way. We won't charge the driver with something they couldn't prevent.

"But if there was careless driving involved, they will definitely receive a citation."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

To view a video from the crash scene, go to video.tampabay.com

Cement truck overturns on I-275, punches hole in Pinellas Bayway ramp 12/14/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 12:26am]
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