ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - Lanes of I-95 southbound began to reopen at midday Sunday, 16 hours after at least six people were killed in two separate crashes that closed the interstate in both St. Johns and Flagler counties.
WJXT reports highway officials are still accessing damage to the highway from the second, fiery crash involving 11 vehicles that burned for hours.
At 1 p.m. Sunday, two of three southbound lanes of I-95 at State Road 206 were open but the Florida Highway Patrol continued to encourage people to avoid the area.
The FHP says two people were killed in the first crash, which happened around 5:30 p.m. at Mile Marker 288, south of Palm Coast Parkway in Flagler County.
Backed up traffic from that crash is believed to have contributed to the second crash about 7:40 p.m., where a tractor-trailer apparently rear-ended a car, causing a chain-reaction crash and starting a fire that engulfed several vehicles. Troopers say at least four people died in this crash and fire.
In the Flagler County crash, troopers say 38-year-old Roy White, of Jacksonville, was driving a Chevrolet Silverado north on I-95 and for some reason drifted across the highway. That car hit the median and became airborne, traveling over a guardrail, and entered southbound lanes of I-95.
White's car hit the top of the Honda Civic driven by 56-year-old Pamela Taylor Thor, of St. Augustine, and then a third car.
Troopers say White's passenger, 17-year-old Benjamin Smith, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected from the truck. Both Smith and Thor died from their injuries.
No one in the third car was hurt.
Troopers originally closed I-95 in both directions, but reopened northbound lanes around 7:15 p.m.
FHP said the backup from the Palm Coast crash may have contributed to the crash in St. Johns county that involved at least eight passenger vehicles and three commercial motor vehicles. At least four deaths were confirmed.
FHP said preliminary information revealed that traffic was being detoured from I-95 southbound to the exit of U.S. 1, due to the Palm Coast crash. Traffic was stopped awaiting the detour when a semi-truck approached the area.
For reasons still under investigation, the big rig driven by Barbara Carol Pennington, 50, of Lakeland was unable to stop in time to avoid rear-ending several vehicles, which started a fiery chain-reaction crash that killed:
Nilda Valentine Rivera, 41, of Palm Coast , who was driving a Chevrolet Spark.
A 25-year-old in a Civic whose identity is pending notification of next-of-kin.
Jonathan Jay Ruiz, 1, of Jacksonville, who was also in the Civic.
The crash also left Randolph Anthony Smiroldo 54, of Palm Coast with critical injuries.
Joel and Rebecca Vanwingerden suffered minor injuries in a Buick Century.
Jillian Miller also suffered minor injuries in a Jetta.
Pennington was also pronounced dead at the scene.
Jeanine Ricchetti saw the accident and spoke to Channel 4. "We were screaming and crying and then praying. I think we were absolutely shocked. Saying 'oh, my god, oh my god' but I didn't know what to do because there was fire and I wanted to get away and yet I knew I was supposed to stay in my car, because you're supposed to be safer in the car," Ricchetti said.
Sunday, much of the debris was still scattered along the side of I95. Part of the shoulder was blocked off by caution signs. Ricchetti says she spoke with two woman who she saw walking towards to crash.
"One of them got out and told her daughter 'turn around and walk as far away from the fire as you can and don't look back," said Ricchetti.
Just before noon, the FHP said one southbound of I-95 at S.R. 206 in southern St. Johns County was reopened, and a second lane reopened within the hour. The third lane remained closed while Florida Department of Transportation determines damage to the pavement from the fire. Troopers urged people to avoid the area until the highway was completely cleared.
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