TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida Highway Patrol lieutenant who ordered the reopening of a fog- and smoke-shrouded interstate highway shortly before a series of crashes killed 11 people was unaware of the agency's procedures and had no formal training in opening and reopening roads, a state report said Thursday.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement report concluded troopers made errors but found no criminal violations.
Highway Patrol Sgt. Bruce Simmons expressed concerns about reopening Interstate 75 in north Florida in January but Lt. John Gourley gave the order because he was worried keeping the highway closed also would be dangerous.
At least a dozen cars, pickup trucks and a van, six semi-trailer trucks and a motorhome collided in north Florida near Gainesville. Some vehicles burst into flames, making it difficult to identify the victims.
Smoke from a wildfire mixed with fog blanketed the highway where it cut through Paynes Prairie State Park.
The victims included five people in a van returning to Kennesaw, Ga., from an Orlando church retreat: 43-year-old pastor Jose Carmo Jr., his wife, Arianna, 39, and their 17-year-old daughter, Leticia, as well as Carmo's 38-year-old brother, Edson, and his girlfriend, Roselia DeSilva, 41.
The Carmos were originally from Brazil. Another daughter, 15-year-old Lidiane Carmo, survived.
Seventeen-year-old Sabryna Hughes Gilley died with her father, Michael Hughes, 39, and her stepmother, Lori Lynne Brock-Hughes, 46, in a pickup truck. They were on their way from Pensacola to Sarasota for a relative's funeral.
Vontavia Robinson, 22, of Williston died when his car crashed into the back of another pickup that had slammed into a semi stopped in the middle southbound lane.
Jason Lee Raikes, 26, and his girlfriend, Christie Diana Nguyen, 27, were killed when their Toyota Matrix crashed in the northbound lanes. Raikes had moved to Gainesville from Richmond, Va., a year earlier to be with Nguyen.