A Fatal crash on I-75 North of the 275 interchange brought traffic to a stand still in Manatee and Hillsborough Counties. The accident involved 3 cars on the southbound lanes of I-75 approaching U.S. 301 at mile marker 231.The accident blocked 75 for much of the day and lanes were not reopened until 6:15 a.m.
Florida Highway patrol reported the accident started about 4:30 a.m started when the driver of a 2002 Ford Expedition, (Brittany Gonzalez, 18, of Seffner) reached for a dropped cell phone causing her to veer onto the shoulder of the highway. Gonzalez then over corrected causing the vehicle to skid back and forth before rolling multiple times and ending up blocking the middle lane. Having suffered only minor injuries Gonzalez exited the SUV and made it to the shoulder to call for help. Immediately after a 2002 Chevy Suburban collided with the Expedition’s right side, followed by a Freightliner tractor trailer which smashed into the left side of the Suburban. The force of the impact killed the driver of the Suburban, James Sims Jr., 66, of Stockbridge, Georgia.
The driver of the semi, Angel Pedraja, 37, of Miami told FHP that he changed from the right lane onto the middle lane because of deris in the roadway. This lane change moved his truck into the middle lane were it did not have time to avoid crashing into the Suburban.
The collision caused the tractor trailer to roll over and slide sideways blocking two lanes of traffic. Pedraja, the driver of the truck also received minor injuries and was taken with Gonzalez to Manatee Memorial Hospital for treatment.
Florida Highway patrol has an ongoing investigation of the accident but reported that alcohol was not a factor and that all three drivers were wearing seat belts.
In Addition to the debris from the smashed SUVs and semi trailer oil and automotive fluids spilled across the roadway further hampering cleanup of the accident. The lane closures caused massive traffic backups with a 3 hour+ delay to get from Tampa to Sarasota.
The accident had unfortunately occurred miles from exits which further exasperated the traffic snarl.
The severity of this accident adds fuel to the debate on whether talking on cell phones while driving should be banned. Distracted drivers cause thousands of serious accidents every year.