“Everybody was helter skelter,” said Jim Foster, a driver involved in the accident.
The Florida Highway Patrol completely closed the southbound lanes of I-75 on the overpass at exit 213 near the Manatee/Sarasota County line for nearly six hours Friday.
“All of sudden I put the breaks on as fast and hard as I could… hollered to Mary, we are gonna crash,” said Bob Sipkema whose truck was totaled in the wreck.
Many drivers who spoke to ABC Action News said road condition were poor at the time due to intense rainfall. They also commented that visibility was poor.
According to officials, there were 52 injuries, including three people flown to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg. Nineteen others have been transported to Lakewood Ranch Medical Center.
“No fatalities and given the fact that there was so much during rush hour that is pretty incredible,” said Capt. Susan Pearson with the Sarasota County Fire Department.
Another 30 people were treated at the scene.
“I just put my head down so I wouldn’t see,” said Mary Sipkem who was driving home with her husband. Their pickup truck was totaled in the wreck.
Some onlookers ran to help those hurt.
“People were just getting out, running to help the people,” explained Ann Fenzel, who was involved in the wreck but not hurt.
In addition to vehicle debris, officials had to clean up leakage from a tanker truck carrying calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is used in several industrial applications, and it is not considered hazardous.
The lanes were opened to traffic shortly after 9:00.
State Trooper Kenneth Watson with Florida Highway Patrol believes this pileup could have been prevented.
“When we have inclement weather and it is pouring down rain…just because the speed limit is 70 doesn’t always mean you need to travel at 70 miles per hour,” said Watson.