All lanes on SB I-75 now open after terrible crash, miraculous that both drivers survived

12:01 AM, Mar 22, 2013   |    comments
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Wesley Chapel, Florida -- UPDATE: The fiery crash closed lanes along I-75 for nearly 20 hours Thursday, but official word of the second lane finally re-opening came just before the day's end. 

Florida Department of Transportation officials reported at 11:55 p.m. that all lanes between County Road 54/State Road 54 and State Road 56 on southbound I-75 are open to traffic. 

The serious crash between a tractor trailer and dump truck closed lanes around 6:30 a.m. Officials say clean-up and roadway repairs were necessary before re-opening the roads.


There was no shortage of commuter chaos along I-75 today in Pasco County. Two trucks, tangled-up in a twisted fireball had the southbound lanes of the major artery shut down for the better part of the day.

At about 6:30 this morning, the southbound lanes of I-75 lit up with the glow of a diesel-fueled fireball. Smoke and flames billowed from a tractor trailer and dump truck that had collided just north of the Highway 56 interchange.

Investigating exactly what went wrong may be tough, said traffic investigators.

"All the tires were burned off so the recovery of evidence in this case, with this type of crash, may be difficult," said Sgt. Steve Gaskins with the Florida Highway Patrol.

The good news was that miraculously, both drivers, identified as 55-year-old Mark Berrier behind the wheel of the semi, and Manuel Rivera 42, who was steering the dump truck, survived unharmed.

"They were able to get out of the vehicles before any injuries occurred and before the fire consumed anything," said Gaskins.

Traffic investigators said Berrier clipped a construction zone barrier, lost control, hit the guardrail and jack-knifed his truck. Rivera, they say, simply couldn't stop in time.

The semi, it turns out, was transporting U.S. mail from Jacksonville to Tampa. But the burning bundles, say USPS officials, were all third class mail. Magazines and fliers. No letters to grandma, tax forms or other sensitive materials.

The repair work was no small task given the urgency to get the road back open as quickly as possible.

As tow trucks pulled the pair of charred frames away, milling machines and pavers moved in.

Luckily, most of the equipment was already on-hand or nearby.

"We were fortunate that they had the right machines out here for a similar project they were going to do that was off the travel lanes," said DOT Spokesman John McShaffrey. "So, they were out here ready to work."

Commuters may remember another fiery crash, also involving a semi, in this same construction area about a year ago.

Still, investigators say it's no more treacherous through here than any place else as long as drivers use caution.

The off ramp from I-75 southbound at Hwy 56 will remain closed overnight as repairs are made along that section of the road.

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