Investigators: Unanswered questions in deadly chain reaction crash
Matthew Schwartz, of ABC Action News followed up on Uncle Ed’s accident. Read his full article below or click the video to watch.
It was a tanker-truck fire that lit up the bay area sky. The fire last November 15th on I-75 near Gibsonton was so big firefighters didn’t know until the smoke cleared that a driver had been trapped in his car and was dead.
After a day or two the story faded from the headlines. Now we’ve learned that the man who triggered the crash didn’t even have to pay a ticket…and he wasn’t supposed to be working here at the time.
“It’s been a nightmare. My daughter and i are in counseling for it. But it’s still hard. I lost my husband…my best friend.”
Kay Smyth and her 14 year old daughter Kimberly are trying their best to move forward. Ed Smyth was kay’s husband of 28 years…Kimberly is their only child. Ed was a long distance trucker, but was off-duty at the time of the crash, driving to the family’s Bradenton home.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol report, Ed Smyth was in his Hyundai in the high-speed lane southbound on i-75 …when he braked suddenly to avoid a tractor pulling a mowing attachment. That’s right, a tractor was in the fast lane, doing about 30 miles per hour! 40 below the speed limit. Ed’s car then got rear-ended by a pick-up truck. The truck pushed Ed’s car into a tanker that was carrying nine-thousand gallons of fuel. Ed Smyth never had a chance. He was 55 years old.
“I said somebody’s gonna get hurt out here with him out in that left hand lane.”
William Smith, no relation to the victim, had a bad feeling as he drove his tanker-truck past the tractor just seconds before the crash.
“you couldn’t tell at that time of night whether the vehicle was parked, or whether it was moving, you really didn’t know. I didn’t realize it was even a mowing machine until I was right up on top of him.”
Tractor-mowers are allowed on state highways…even in the high-speed lanes! State law calls it “special mobile equipment.” Kay Smyth calls it a crime.
“If the mower was not there, my husband would not have been killed.”
The mower wasn’t even suppose to be there at that time! Its operator, 28 year old Franklin Williamson, owns “titan lawn services”, which was a sub-contractor for “Infrastructure Corporation of America.” Their contract with the state said all maintenance was supposed to be done between 9am and 4 pm. The tractor had been mowing the grass median just before the crash happened, at 9 PM! Williamson got a ticket for careless driving, for doing 30 miles per hour in the high speed lane.
Larry Coggins, Fl. Highway patrol: “There’s no evidence to support a charge that there was a criminal intent or just a pure intent to harm somebody.”
“But Williams’ lawyer got the traffic judge to drop the careless driving charge!, citing state law which does not consider farming and construction equipment to be motor vehicles. In fact, operators of farm and construction equipment don’t even have to have driver’s licenses or registration! And we’ve learned that despite violating the terms of the state contract, Williamson is still mowing state-owned property!”
We were surprised when we recently found Williamson mowing by I-275 for another contractor. So I asked department of transportation spokeswoman Kris Carson about that.
“How is this guy, this mower, allowed after violating the contract, to still mow state-owned property?” “The Department of Transportation had concerns, obviously, that he was mowing in the evening hours, and we talked to our primary contractors about these concerns.”
“Alright, so basically the one time isn’t enough for you to stop him from doing work on your property, even though somebody died in that crash.” We had concerns. We talked to the contractor and we feel confident that the mowing will obviously be done during the day.”
After we told state senator Arthenia Joyner about our investigation, she said she’s planning to take action.
“I’m going to propose that any vehicle that’s operated on the roads and highways of the state of Florida be bound by the same laws that other passenger vehicles are bound by.”
“This is gonna happen again…someone else is gonna die. And this time it may be more than one person that gets killed.”
I talked to Williamson on the phone but he declined comment, and his attorney didn’t return numerous calls. In a wrongful death lawsuit, Smyth’s widow is suing Williamson, the contractor, “Infrastructure Corporation of America”, and the driver of the pick-up truck that pushed Smyth’s car into the tanker. We’ll keep you posted.