Friday, May 25, 2018
Public safety

Traffic finally flows again after fiery collision on I-75

WESLEY CHAPEL — Of 1,150 miles in his trip, the last few were the worst. Witaly Jakowlew's drive from New York City to Gulfport should have been over around noon Thursday. Instead, he was standing at a Hess gas station on State Road 54, having just come off Interstate 75, and was looking for directions.

"All of a sudden, the traffic came to a crawl," said Jakowlew, 83, "and I've been crawling for over an hour."

Ten miles of busy southbound interstate clotted for most of Thursday after two trucks collided and burst into flames just north of State Road 56, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

The fire from the wreck and leaking diesel fuel damaged a 350-foot swath.

Remarkably, no one was seriously injured. But repair crews spent the day tearing up two layers of asphalt and repaving them, said state patrol spokesman Sgt. Steve Gaskins.

Officials opened one southbound lane by 5:30 p.m., said Florida Department of Transportation spokesman John McShaffrey. They expected to finish the repairs during the night and well before this morning's traffic.

The crash, involving a dump truck and a semitrailer truck, was reported about 6:30 a.m.

The semitrailer, operated by Jacksonville-based Pat Salmon & Sons of Florida, was southbound on the interstate when it crashed into a construction zone on the right. The impact caused the truck to jackknife and crash into the center guardrail, troopers said.

A dump truck, operated by R & D Hauling of Land O'Lakes, was traveling behind and unable to stop, troopers said. It crashed into the semi. Both drivers left the trucks before the vehicles caught fire.

Repairs would have taken much longer, McShaffrey said, but because the crash happened at a construction site, the crew was already on scene.

The crew has been working on a road-widening project since 2011, McShaffrey said. All the equipment needed was there and ready. All they needed was asphalt — about 12 truckloads worth.

"It was a good place for an accident, if there would have been a good place," he said.

The semitrailer truck was transporting magazines and third-class mail from Jacksonville to Tampa, said U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman Debbie Fetterly. Verizon mailers bound for Safety Harbor, swimsuit magazines and magazines with American flags on the cover littered the roadway after the crash. Workers were hauling the mail in containers and placing them inside Postal Service trucks, though many items were damaged or destroyed.

USPS workers were still sorting out details as to how they'll deliver the salvaged periodicals and fliers. Customers will get apologies with their smoky mail, Fetterly said.

"We have a lot of trucks on the road," Fetterly said. "There are a lot of cars on the road. Accidents, unfortunately, do happen, and we're just grateful that no one was hurt."

The drivers were transported to local hospitals for observation, Gaskins said.

The dump truck driver, Manuel Francisco Rodriguez Rivera, 42, of Land O'Lakes was taken to Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel.

The driver of the semi, Mark Alan Berrier, 55, of Macclenny, was taken to University Community Hospital with a broken elbow, his company dispatcher confirmed after talking with him.

At the Flying J Truck Stop in San Antonio, what is usually a bustling hub of truckers and travelers was a stagnant campground as drivers waited for the roads to open, said Steve Donahue, general manager of the rest stop.

About 100 cars and RVs and about 180 semi trucks sat in the parking lots, their drivers eating at the nearby diner or resting in their vehicles.

"There's nowhere to go, so they might as well eat," he said.

One driver told Donahue it took an hour and 15 minutes to get from Ocala to the rest stop.

Jordan Romero of Wesley Chapel was among the thousands of drivers stuck in traffic Thursday morning.

He is usually at work at an engineering company in Tampa by 9 a.m. Instead, he was diverted toward SR 54 by troopers.

"My manager also lives in Wesley Chapel," he said. "We're both in the struggle. … I've never seen it so bad."

Drivers were advised to seek alternate routes for the rest of the day, including U.S. 41 and U.S. 301.

Back at the Hess station, Jakowlew took directions around the traffic from a stranger. There was a handshake, a wish of good luck and he was back on his way to Gulfport, an hour late for a post-journey beer.

Times staff photographer Skip O'Rourke and researchers Carolyn Edds and Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

Comments
Carlton: Senseless death on a street like no other

Carlton: Senseless death on a street like no other

On a Wednesday morning, a mother and her little girl, not quite 2, went for a stroll along one of Tampa’s prettiest streets.It was nearly lunchtime when they were crossing back over Bayshore Boulevard, headed to the home nearby where they were stayin...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bayshore race claims two lives: child dies day after mother’s death

Bayshore race claims two lives: child dies day after mother’s death

TAMPA — Jessica Raubenolt seized on the sunshine and blue sky at midday Wednesday to take her daughter out in the stroller for a walk along scenic Bayshore Boulevard. Visiting from Ohio, the family had been cursed by rain all week.At the same time, C...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
Driver killed after colliding with dump truck in south Hillsborough

Driver killed after colliding with dump truck in south Hillsborough

WIMAUMA — A 30-year-old man died on Thursday after his sedan crashed head-on into a dump truck, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The crash took place at about 6 p.m. on U.S. 301 near Lightfood Road.Gerardo Yslas of Immokalee was driving a 2012...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Police: Toddler injured in Bayshore racing incident has died

Police: Toddler injured in Bayshore racing incident has died

TAMPA — The 21-month-old toddler who was critically injured Wednesday when she and her mother were struck by a car racing on Bayshore Boulevard has died.The child, Lillia Raubenolt, was pronounced dead at the hospital on Thursday, police said.PREVIOU...
Updated: 9 hours ago
One day after fatal accident, Tampa moves to lower speed limit on Bayshore Blvd

One day after fatal accident, Tampa moves to lower speed limit on Bayshore Blvd

TAMPA — City officials announced Thursday they are reducing the speed limit on Bayshore Boulevard, one day after a mother and her 21-month-old daughter were struck and fatally injured by a speeding car as they crossed the street.Starting today , city...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Pasco sheriff: Man stabbed driver, kicked officer

Pasco sheriff: Man stabbed driver, kicked officer

DADE CITY — A 42-year-old man was arrested Tuesday night after the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said he jumped on top of a car, stabbed the driver multiple times and then kicked an officer.Roscoe James faces charges of attempted murder, two counts o...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Three men charged with street racing in Bayshore Boulevard crash are recent graduates of Tampa Catholic High School

Three men charged with street racing in Bayshore Boulevard crash are recent graduates of Tampa Catholic High School

TAMPA— The Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg confirmed Thursday that the three men involved in the Bayshore Boulevard crash that killed an Ohio mother and critically injured her 21-month-old daughter are recent graduates of Tampa Catholic High Schoo...
Published: 05/24/18
GoFundMe page for woman killed on Bayshore has raised more than 10 times its goal

GoFundMe page for woman killed on Bayshore has raised more than 10 times its goal

TAMPA — Friends were hoping to use GoFundMe to raise $2,000 for the family of Jessica Raubenolt, who was struck and killed Wednesday while pushing her 21-month-old daughter in a stroller across Bayshore Boulevard.As of Thursday morning, more than $20...
Published: 05/24/18
Three arrested for street racing after mother fatally struck pushing stroller on Bayshore Boulevard

Three arrested for street racing after mother fatally struck pushing stroller on Bayshore Boulevard

TAMPA — The two cars raced each other along Bayshore Boulevard just before noon, witnesses told police. One was a black 2018 Mustang. The other a gold Nissan. They sped side-by-side, trading the lead, police said, despite the traffic and pedestrians ...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Clearwater deputy fire chief resigns as report on sick leave abuse is released

Clearwater deputy fire chief resigns as report on sick leave abuse is released

CLEARWATER — A months-long probe into abuse of sick leave within the fire department concluded this week with the resignation of a deputy chief and the release of an internal review.The city paid $93,816 in unearned or unauthorized sick time, benefit...
Published: 05/23/18
Updated: 05/24/18