Questions about Interstate 75 accident

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Column by Jim Clark

Many years ago when I was younger, I used to love driving at night when taking long trips. I always felt that you could see what was coming from a greater distance, and usually most of the people on the road were commercial drivers, in those days people who knew how to drive better than most.
But I, and everyone else, have to be grateful that I wasn’t on the Interstate early Sunday morning in southern Alachua County.
I can’t imagine driving down the highway, encountering a virtual blackout of smoke, and realizing too late that there was traffic stopped in front of you.
By now everyone realizes there were 20 vehicles involved in that wreck and that, at this writing, nine or 10 people died.
There were two disturbing news items to come from that crash.
First, there is talk that the brush fire in Paynes Prairie that caused all the problems was set by man. There had been no lightning in the area, and, contrary to early reports, there were no controlled burns. It was still to be decided whether it started accidentally or was arson, but either way, the failure to immediately control the blaze resulted in all these fatalities.
It is important that investigators use every resource possible to find out who is responsible for that fire. Those people should face appropriate charges.
Second, it appears that the road was closed because of the smoke, but reopened later when it appeared to clear. Obviously, that was the wrong decision.
The Alachua County sheriff was interviewed on television, and she pointed out how quickly things can change.
Unfortunately, the old cliché “Discretion is the better part of valor” would have been appropriate in this case. Whoever made the decision to reopen the highway will have to live with that decision forever.
Along with the Interstate, other roads had to be closed. U.S. Highway 441 in southern Alachua County was closed, off and on, because of the smoke.
This meant diverting traffic, and that had an effect in northern Marion County all weekend. Southbound Interstate traffic was detoured off the highway at Williston Road, then directed on State Road 121 all the way to U.S. Highway 27 in Williston, then back toward Ocala. This put a lot of traffic on the road on U.S. 27 west of I-75.
This ripple effect was still being felt Monday morning.
In addition, the message being put out by various websites was confusing. One site was saying the highway was open, another was saying one side was open, another was saying it was closed, all at the same time.
The best thing to do, and it will be in the future when things like this happen, is to avoid the area altogether.
Think of the families of those involved. Possibly the most touching story was that five people from one church decided to come back with a pastor so they could be in Georgia for the next morning’s service. However, another pastor didn’t want to drive at night, so he and his group stayed behind in Florida to travel on Sunday. He and his group survived. Nearly all those in the other group didn’t.
Hopefully, the smoke has cleared and the roads can be back to normal. But for the families of those victims, nothing will be normal again.

Jim Clark is the editor of the South Marion Citizen. He can be reached at editor@smcitizen.com or at 352-854-3986.

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