The charred frames of trailers and the twisted metal of cars are a somber reminder of the tragedy on I-75. One year ago, on a stretch of interstate near Gainesville, 11 people died after fog and smoke from a nearby wildfire made it nearly impossible for drivers to see.
The Florida Highway Patrol closed the road, but by 3:30 in the morning conditions improved. The interstate was reopened over the objections of at least one trooper.
An investigated concluded poor communications among troopers contributed to the crash. FHP responded saying nothing they could have done would have changed the outcome.
And FHP is remaining quiet on the terrible anniversary. A spokesperson for the patrol tells me they’re not commenting oncamera because of possible future lawsuits. But actions speak louder than words and FHP has already taken significant steps.
Each troop now has a watch supervisor in charge of monitoring conditions and will conduct annual reviews of its road closing procedures.
These billboards are part of FHP’s low visibility campaign, but maybe the biggest awareness weapon of them all is the tragedy itself.
At a rest stop near the state capital we met Ray Watkins, a retired race car driver from England, where fog is a constant problem.
“I was surprised they didn’t have all the signs out, very surprised. You won’t let that happen anymore, will ya?” said Watkins.
Tuesday Ray loaded up his car with friends and family at his vacation home near Gainesville. They headed toward north, avoiding I-75. There are even more changes in the works. The Florida Department of Transportation has money to put digital warning signs in dangerous areas. There are also talks or putting closed circuit TV cameras on roadways to monitor conditions.