It was a horrific scene on Interstate 75 Friday afternoon. A tractor-trailer slammed into the concrete median and burst into a fireball, killing the driver. A second tractor-trailer and two other cars were also involved in the crash. It happened just before 2 p.m. near Fowler Avenue.
A 10-mile stretch of the interstate's northbound lanes was closed for more than six hours, before re-opening at 8:30 Friday night.
It was a frustrating afternoon for thousands of people who found themselves stranded on the interstate for hours. Many people could see the huge, black cloud of smoke rising ahead of them, so it wasn't tough to figure out something awful had happened.
Traffic piled-up for miles on both sides of the interstate, as the Florida Highway Patrol shut it down to deal with aftermath of the chain-reaction, fiery mess. Investigators said a car driven by 20-year-old Alicia Fontes-Ferraz was merging onto I-75 from the Fowler on-ramp.
To avoid hitting her, Highway Patrol said 48-year-old Paul Pitts, who was hauling a load of cardboard boxes, merged left and struck a flatbed truck in the far left lane, forcing it into the concrete construction barrier.
"There was a brief opening on there, some of the witnesses said it appeared the truck was trying to go to that opening to avoid everything and struck the barrier wall," said Corporal Roger Cheshire of the Florida Highway Patrol.
That flatbed burst into flames on-impact and sent a huge plume of black smoke into the sky.
"The other trailer continued on down the road, split apart and we did have one confirmed fatal on-scene," said Cheshire.
The impact split the semi in two and ripped the rear wheels and door right off the back of it, sending it careening to the right side of the highway.
"Yeah, it was a big fire," said Roger Pallapati, who watched the truck strike the barrier, then explode. The fire was so hot, it melted and warped the steel wheels on the semi.
He was on his way home from a doctor's appointment and was stranded on I-75 for more than 5 hours waiting to go home and witnessing a gruesome scene.
"It was a big accident, very scary," he said.
The Florida Department of Environmental Control was also on-scene to contain and clean-up some of the diesel fuel that had spilled into some small streams nearby. Due to the extent of the damage from the fire, the owner of the truck and driver's identity have not been released yet.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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