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I-75 chain reaction crash snarls traffic

A 30-year-old woman was flown by helicopter to Tampa General Hospital on Friday in serious condition after an accident on Interstate 75 that triggered a multi-vehicle pileup.

The Florida Highway Patrol diverted vehicles through a rest stop next to the accident, but traffic was backed up south of State Road 50 for at least four hours.

Michelle Damron Hulinek, of Bushnell, was driving north on I-75 about a half-mile into Sumter County about 1:30 p.m. when she swerved to avoid a semitrailer truck. Her Ford Explorer flipped over, throwing her into the road. Hulinek received head injuries and remained in intensive care Friday night, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The Ford ended up off to the left side of the interstate, but Hulinek lay in the middle of the left lane.

"My heart dropped when I saw that lady come out," said Michael Allen, who witnessed the accident.

A semitrailer truck, a Cadillac, two pickup trucks _ one towing a trailer _ and a maroon car stopped in a line to avoid hitting her, said Lt. Greg LaMont of the Florida Highway Patrol.

Seconds later, a refrigerated semitrailer truck driven by Timothy J. Pierson smashed into the back of the stopped vehicles. The maroon car had pulled out just before impact. The semitrailer drove up on the towed trailer and smashed into the top of the pickup truck. The impact forced that pickup into the one in front of it, which then crashed onto the Cadillac.

Most of the drivers and passengers had left their vehicles to assist Hulinek as she lie in the road.

The occupants of the Cadillac were trapped in the vehicle.

"We were just hit all over. Something terrible front and back," said Harlin Brown, 69, who was in the car with his wife, Marlene.

The pileup destroyed the front and back of the Cadillac. It took a team of emergency workers to cut the roof off and pull them free. They were not injured.

"Everyone has been just wonderful," he said. "I'll sure buy another Cadillac."

Allen, who was driving the Chevrolet pickup towing the trailer, said he was lucky to be alive. He had stepped down out of the truck only seconds before hearing the semitrailer collide.

"I'm going straight to church on Sunday," said Allen, looking at his mangled driver's seat.

The FHP cited Pierson, of Richland, Miss., with careless driving. They were still investigating whether to charge Jacksonville resident Clyde Williams, who was driving the semitrailer that the woman swerved to avoid.