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Deadly I-75 crash brings improvements, lawsuits

Last week marked the one-year anniversary of a crash in Alachua County that left 11 people dead and more than 20 others injured. Florida residents likely remember the multi-car crash, which involved 25 cars on Interstate 75.

The collisions happened due to low visibility caused by a mix of fog and smoke from a brush fire. The highway was reportedly closed at midnight due to visibility issues, but reopened at 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 29. The crashes began within 30 minutes of the road reopening. The decision to reopen the roads has been criticized and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement says the decision was "based on incomplete information and not enough monitoring."

Since the accidents, improvements have been made in response to the tragic incident. A watch supervisor is now assigned to each troop to oversee all significant incidents. More than 6,000 Florida Turnpike Enterprise radio communication members, as well as reserve troopers, have been trained on road closure procedures and protocols. Those protocols are also reviewed annually with the Florida Forest Service.

While the crash is considered to be one of the deadliest in North Central Florida history, it has brought big changes, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. Cameras were installed along I-75 to help monitor traffic and see live images of the roadways. The department plans to start a $3-million project next year that will help keep motorists safe during low visibility. The funds will help install changeable message signs along the interstate, as well as vehicle detectors that measure speed and sensors that will measure visibility.

Along with improvements came lawsuits. Litigation has been waged against the state from victims who were injured in the crash or lost loved ones. Attorneys say although the state may not be 100 percent at fault, they do hold some responsibility. State sovereign immunity law puts a cap of no more than $200,000 per person or no more than $300,000 per incident, unless a waiver is approved.

Source: Miami Herald, "Improvements, lawsuits mark I-75 crash anniversary," Kyle Hightower, Jan. 27, 2013

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