People talk of going into a "wall"


Two drivers stand by Interstate 4 as workers clean up debris. Visibility was extremely low and caused multiple accidents on I-4 that happened in Auburndale, Florida, Wednesday, January 9, 2008 due to fog mixed with smoke from a brush fire.

Jeremy Maready/The Ledger
Published: Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at 1:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at 1:18 p.m.

Lakeland’s Richard Miller, an industrial electrician, sipped on his third tall Budweiser by the truck stop on State Road 559 about noon today.

He called it his “cure.’’

Miller was riding his Harley-Davidson to work Monday morning, heading to Orlando when he hit a wall of fog and smoke.

“It was so thick, you couldn’t see a foot in front of you,’’ said Miller, 52.

Then the accidents started.

“It was just like if you had a blindfold on. You could hear metal crashing,’’ Miller said.

Somehow, he had managed to drive his Harley out of harm’s way.

How he managed to escape – and pretty much why he was now cradling beer in the shade – amazed him and the state trooper who walked up to him at the scene.

“ ’Why weren’t you hit, he (trooper) said.’ I don’t know why I wasn’t hit,’’ Miller said.

Richard Crotchett was walking his Suzuki motorcycle westbound on the eastbound lane, heading for SR 559, several hours earlier on Wednesday. He was on his way to work as a machinist at Disney at 5:30 a.m. today when he ran into problems.

" All of a sudden it was like a wall came down in front of me," Crotchett said. "You couldn’t see anything. You couldn’t even see two feet in front of your face."

Crotchett slowed down and tried to go around on the shoulder, but people started telling him he wasn’t going to be able to get through, he said.

At that time, he came upon an accident between a truck and a van, which had four people in it, including one who was in "really bad shape," he said. It took rescue workers a while to get him out.

“It was such a huge problem." Crotchett said. "They couldn’t get ambulances in. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Polk County deputies who work the day shift didn’t even go to briefing this morning, said Sgt. Steve Pry -- they went directly to the site.

“There’s a ton of vehicles piled up on the road. We’re just waiting for daybreak (fog and smoke to break) to see how bad things are,” Pry said.

He said deputies are walking both sides of I-4 looking for anyone who has been ejected or anything else. They are using flashlights.

“But a flashlight can’t penetrate that," Pry said.

One of the first accidents was a box truck that hit a Jeep Wrangler, pushing it into a silver minivan. There was another accident in the left lane in the same spot.

Jaeson Turner of Lakeland was on his way to Orlando to work at the Central Florida Auto Auction. He was driving a blue Nissan pickup.

“It was like someone put a blanket over your head while you were driving,” Turner said.

Once he hit the smog he couldn’t see anything but he started hearing the cars collide. He swerved off the side of the road and avoided hitting the Jeep and minivan.

“I thank God for my life,” Turner said.

He tried to inch up a bit more to see if there was a way around, but everyone was at a dead stop, he said.

Jim Palmer of Winter Haven, who was on his way to Kissimmee to work for Payne Air Conditioning, said things were an average fog, then a wall. He also heard the cars hit, then people moaning.

Jason Lanning from Bay News 9 said air quality and smoke in the air has gotten worse from 7:30 to 8 a.m. You can barely see two feet in front of you, he said.

Emergency Management has bee on scene for at least 20 hours as of 8 a.m., he said.

The Department of Forestry has lost a bulldozer in the blaze.

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