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Three dead in wrong-way crash on I-275

Two sisters and a male passenger died Sunday morning in the fourth wrong-way crash this year along the same stretch of Interstate 275, the Florida Highway Patrol said. The driver of a semitrailer truck was uninjured in the collision with a four-door Honda that was going south in a northbound lane.
Two sisters and a male passenger died Sunday morning in the fourth wrong-way crash this year along the same stretch of Interstate 275, the Florida Highway Patrol said. The driver of a semitrailer truck was uninjured in the collision with a four-door Honda that was going south in a northbound lane.
Published Sep. 8, 2014

TAMPA — Two sisters and a male passenger died Sunday morning in the fourth wrong-way crash along the same stretch of Interstate 275 this year, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

Sunday's accident raised to 10 the number of fatalities in the four crashes, including all of the wrong-way drivers.

"Statistically, sometimes there are clusters like this that aren't really explainable," said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit group that seeks to use scientific research and education to reduce deaths, injuries and damage from roadway crashes.

Gabrielle Lanier, 33, of Tampa was driving a four-door Honda south on I-275 shortly after 6 a.m. in the inside, northbound lane south of Bearss Avenue when she collided head-on with a semitrailer truck transporting petroleum products for Gemini Motor Transport.

Lanier, her sister Lakritra Lanier, 31, of Tampa and passenger John Pierson, 26, of Riverview all died at the scene of the crash, authorities said.

The sisters lived together in Tampa and Lakritra was a nursing student, family members told Bay News 9. She leaves five children and Gabrielle had four.

"I wish they had been at home and maybe we'd have the opportunity to have them a little bit longer," said Lakritra's ex-husband, Zebadiah Lanier. "It's hard. Everybody's trying to digest and really grasp what really happened."

Michael Kellogg, 50, of Lakeland, who was driving the semitrailer truck, was not injured. No fuel spilled during the crash.

Both vehicles came to a rest in the northbound lanes of I-275, authorities said. The crash closed the northbound lanes of I-275 for several hours, but all lanes were reopened by 11:30 a.m.

Elaine Pierson said her son, John, was a fun-loving, outgoing person.

"John was a good boy," Pierson said. "He loved his family and we loved him. John was a miracle from God." Pierson said she didn't know how John knew the sisters or what they were doing before the crash.

Gabrielle Lanier had a number of traffic violations through the years, including driving with a suspended license.

Highway Patrol spokesman Steve Gaskins said she was likely traveling the wrong way on the highway for less than two minutes before colliding with the truck, leaving little time to broadcast warnings to other drivers.

The four fatal crashes involving wrong-way drivers span seven months and occurred along the same stretch of I-275.

On Feb. 9, Daniel Lee Morris, 28, collided on I-275 near Busch Boulevard with a 2010 Hyundai carrying four University of South Florida fraternity brothers. All five men died.

Less than two weeks later, Chase Kaleb Leveille, 25, crashed into an Enterprise rental truck near Bearss Avenue. Leveille was killed. Two men in the truck were injured.

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Another man, Edward Jose Duran, 23, died last month when he drove against southbound traffic and collided with an ambulance just north of Floribraska Avenue. The ambulance was not carrying any patients, although its two attendants were hospitalized with minor injuries.

Gaskins said in all three of those cases, the driver didn't accidentally get on the wrong ramp but instead did a U-turn while on the highway and began driving in the wrong direction. The drivers were all impaired by either drugs or alcohol and were "essentially oblivious about what's going on around them."

"I'm not aware of any intentional intent or behavior on the part of any of the drivers," he said. "We can put all the flashing red signs on the ramps we want but it wouldn't affect any of these crashes because they're drivers doing U-turns."

Wrong-way crashes are rare and typically account for 3 percent of accidents, Gaskins said. But because they involve two vehicles colliding head-on at high speeds, they are often fatal.

The Highway Patrol is still seeking to determine what happened immediately preceding Sunday's crash.

Investigators will attempt to contact witnesses who might be able to provide more information about how the car ended up going in the wrong direction. He said the toxicology report, which won't be available for about a month, will also answer a lot of questions about what happened.

Ultimately, Gaskins said, the string of fatal wrong-way fatal accidents is a result of intoxication and driver error.

"This is a driver problem, not a road problem." Gaskins said. "People do really crazy things when they're intoxicated. I can't tell you why, and, unfortunately, we can't really ask someone as these accidents have taken the life of every wrong-way driver to date."

Times researcher Natalie Watson and staff writer Julie Kliegman contributed to this report. Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2443. Follow @cljohnst.