FHP reports numerous crashes on I-75 on rainy Friday


This image from Gainesville/Alachua County's Smarttraffic website shows traffic congestion on Interstate 75 in Gainesville on Friday.

Published: Friday, May 3, 2013 at 12:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 3, 2013 at 10:16 p.m.

Hazim Al-Zubaidi awoke to a violently loud crash and to see a large Mack truck careening toward the side of the van he was riding in.

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This image from Gainesville/Alachua County's Smarttraffic website shows traffic congestion on Interstate 75 in Gainesville on Friday.

“The big truck hit very close to me,” said Al-Zubaidi, a graduate student who was traveling on Interstate 75 northbound as he and six other college students headed from Orlando back to Western Michigan University.



Al-Zabaidi was among dozens of people involved in at least seven major vehicle crashes that occurred in rainy conditions on an 11-mile stretch of I-75 that extends through Alachua County Friday — accidents that turned the interstate into a virtual parking lot in both directions.

All told, the Florida Highway Patrol said the seven crashes involved upward of 35 vehicles. Four of the seven crashes involved tractor-trailers, FHP said. All seven of the crashes occurred between mile markers 381 and 392. FHP said.

While several occupants in the vehicles were transported to local hospitals with injuries, no fatalities occurred, troopers said.

The first FHP troopers were dispatched shortly after noon to an 18-car pileup on I-75 northbound involving four separate wrecks in the vicinity of 39th Avenue. Traffic was diverted at the 39th Avenue interchange for more than an hour, troopers said.

Kamil Jebur, another student in the rented minivan heading back to Michigan, recalled the events leading up to what apparently was the first major accident of the Friday afternoon mayhem.

“A luxury car passed us very fast, and the weather was very bad,” said Jebur. “After it went in front of us, it started spinning. Two cars hit him first and our car hit third.”

The car that started spinning apparently started a chain reaction that led to four separate crashes. FHP spokesperson Sgt. Tracy Pace said the driver of that vehicle, who Pace would not identify but did say he was 25 years old, was found to be driving too fast for the rainy conditions and would be cited. He and his girlfriend were transported to Shands at the University of Florida with non-life-threatening injuries.

As traffic in two northbound lanes finally began to resume, the number of accidents quickly multiplied.

On the southbound side of the interstate, several motorists waited on the side of the road for tow trucks or law enforcement to arrive to take incident reports of their crashes.

Krystal Flakes, 20, a Florida A&M student, said she was heading home to Tampa for the summer when a black sports car suddenly slammed on the brakes ahead of her and then tried to veer into the emergency lane.

“It didn't give me enough time to stop,” said Flakes, whose car ended up in a crash with four others.

Taylor Bidelman, 20, a Florida State student, said he was on the shoulder of I-75 when his car was struck by Flakes' gray Infiniti.

Andrew Smith, 20, also an FSU student, said he couldn't see over the hill nearing the Williston Road exit and the rain further blurred his vision. He ran into the other side of the sports car after Flakes' vehicle collided with it.

The Gainesville area received approximately 3.31 inches of rain between Thursday and Friday, according to the National Weather Service. The rain is expected to continue on Saturday, and to a lesser extent on Sunday and Monday.

Sgt. Pace told The Sun there were several other accidents throughout Alachua County but she was unable to provide a final number as FHP continued to respond to accidents Friday afternoon.

Due to the high volume of crashes, Alachua County sheriff's deputies also responded to the interstate to help guide the flow of traffic, according to sheriff's spokesman Art Forgey.

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