TAMPA — A semitrailer truck driver died in a fiery crash on Interstate 75 that closed the northbound lanes for six hours and snarled rush-hour traffic.
It was the second major Tampa Bay-area accident on that highway in a month.
An FHP report said that on Friday Alicia Fontes-Ferraz, 20, of Tampa, was merging onto I-75 north from the E Fowler Avenue entrance, when she entered the path of Paul Pitts, 48, of Panama City, who was driving a semi loaded with cardboard boxes.
To avoid hitting Fontes-Ferraz's 2001 Ford Focus, Pitts tried to move into the inside lane. His truck collided with another semitrailer that was already there.
The second semi slammed into a wall, traveled into the median and caught on fire, the FHP said. The driver of that semi died at the scene. His identity was not released.
The wall the semi hit was a concrete barrier in a construction zone — part of a $95 million project to expand I-75 from Fowler Avenue to State Road 56 that began early this year and is expected to be completed in 2015. Traffic constricting barriers and lane shifts were installed in the area more than a year ago to protect workers trying to complete new interstate spans over Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
Troopers have not said the construction was a factor in this crash.
During the investigation, the northbound lanes of the interstate were shut down from Interstate 4 to Fowler Avenue from 2:10 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
The FHP report said charges are pending in this case.
On Oct. 5, a chain-reaction crash caused a 50-car pileup at the Manatee-Sarasota county line that severely injured several people and closed I-75's southbound lanes for six hours.