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Gas tanker explodes on I-75, one person is killed

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Gibsonton, Florida — A tanker truck burst into flames on I-75 last night, shutting down all lanes and forcing motorists to run from their cars for safety. It happened around 9:30 near Gibsonton, just north of the Alafia River.
Florida Highway Patrol says the driver of a Hyundai, heading south on I-75 slowed down behind a tractor who was going about 25 mph. That’s when 18-year-old Dennis Aaron, who was driving a Toyota Tundra, smashed into the Hyundai, sending the Hyundai into the tractor.
After the impact, the Hyundai then veered across the center lane, smashing into a gas tanker that was passing by. The Hyundai and tanker exploded.
The driver of the Hyundai was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the gas tanker got out ok. Aaron, the driver who investigators say smashed into the Hyundai, suffered minor injuries.
All lanes are now clear on I-75.
FHP says the investigation is ongoing and that charges are pending.

GIBSONTON — A maintenance worker mowing after dark on Interstate 75 intruded into traffic, setting off Wednesday’s deadly collision between a car and a fully loaded gas tanker, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Franklin Scott Williamson, 28, president of Titan Lawn Services, was mowing hours after his required 4 p.m. stopping time, state officials say. Troopers say his slow-moving tractor was headed south in the inside lane, going about 30 miles an hour under the road’s minimum speed.
At 9 p.m., a car approached from behind, going the speed limit, 70 mph. The driver slammed on the brakes.
The car avoided the tractor but was rear-ended by a pickup truck behind it. The car veered sharply to the right, crashing into the side of a tanker truck, also headed south, with a full load of 9,000 gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel, troopers said.
The tanker pulled over, and driver Sarria R. Yury , 39, of Tampa climbed out. Moments later, the tanker and the car exploded. Fire crews could not save the car’s driver, and the fire burned for 41/2 hours, said Hillsborough Fire Rescue spokesman Ray Yeakley.
The crash halted traffic, and two people who suffered minor injuries were taken to a hospital, Yeakley said.
Reached at his home, Yury said his company asked him not to talk with reporters. He said he pulled off to the roadside after the collision and saw that the tanker was on fire.
“I got out quickly,” he said.
The car involved belongs to a Bradenton family, and the family has been notified, Trooper Larry Coggins said. But investigators are waiting for the medical examiner to identify the remains of the victim.
Coggins said no charges have been filed, and the investigation is ongoing.
Pickup driver Dennis Aaron said he saw the car’s brake lights ahead and tried to stop his truck, but it was too late.
Aaron, a golf course maintenance worker and dirt bike racer, and his girlfriend were headed home to Apollo Beach on Interstate 75 after celebrating his 18th birthday at a Hooters in Brandon. He said he drank tea.
Troopers say Aaron wasn’t speeding or tailgating when the car in front of him slammed on its brakes.
“It was just, like, instant,” Aaron said, recalling the crash Thursday.
As soon as Aaron rear-ended the car, he saw it veer into the tanker, he said.
Aaron wonders why Williamson was mowing so late and why he drove so slowly.
“At night, what can you mow at night?” Aaron said. “I didn’t even see him at all.”
That’s a question that wasn’t answered Thursday, said DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson.
Williamson’s company, Titan Lawn Services, is a subcontractor in charge of mowing I-75 in Hillsborough County.
Williamson is the company’s president, and he has had a contract for 31/2 months with Infrastructure Corporation of America, a Tennessee-based company that has a contract with DOT.
As part of the contract, Williamson agreed to mow only between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., unless he has written permission from the contractor, said ICA project manager David Buser.
“He was specifically excluded from working at night,” Buser said. “We’ve talked to him this morning and made sure he understands that’s a no-no.”
Subcontractors are not allowed to mow after dark because it’s difficult to see the grass, he said.
“We get a better quality job during the daylight,” Buser said.
Williamson also is required to follow state guidelines about the safety lights for his equipment.
“There’s no formal inspection unless there’s a reason to believe that something was really wrong,” Buser said. In
Williamson’s case, ICA had no reason to think there was a problem, he said.
Buser declined to discuss Williamson’s reasons for mowing that night.
“If it’s related to the crash, I don’t want to talk about it,” he said.
He did say that Williamson was not under a time crunch or behind schedule, and would keep the contract.
Williamson told officials he was driving in the median, not in the road, Carson said.
“His story was that he was actually not in the lane — the accident occurred after he was in the median, and he didn’t play a role in the accident at all,” she said.
Troopers disagree.
“He was definitely in the inside lane on the interstate,” Coggins said. “He was going to mow the medians.”
Pinpointing negligence in this case could be difficult, Tampa civil attorney Chris Knopik said.
The mower may have violated some basic state laws, which include driving at least 50 mph in a 70 mph zone and sticking to the right-hand lane when moving at slow speeds. The mower’s visibility could be an issue.
Knopik said any discussion also had to address the behavior of each driver. None of the vehicles involved in the wreck collided with the mower, he noted.
Steve Yerrid, another Tampa attorney, said driving too slow could be as risky as speeding.
“Anybody who drives on a Florida highway knows the danger of that,” he said. “If the vehicle is going too damn slow and people have no choice but to take evasive action and make an abrupt stop, then bad things can happen.”
Researcher John Martin and staff writer Colleen Jenkins contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 226-3373 or [email protected]
—– Obituary —–
Edward Eugene Smyth Jr., 55, Bradenton, died Nov. 15, 2006.
He was born May 14, 1951, in Bradford, Pa., and came to Bradenton in 1978 from Sarasota. He was a truck driver and a member of Colony Baptist Church.
Survivors include his wife, Kay; parents Edward E. Sr. and Ruth of Sebring; a daughter, Kimberly; sisters Linda Holland of Sebring and David of Venice.
No visitation is planned. Memorial services will be at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Colony Baptist Church. Covell Cremation and Funeral Center, Bradenton, handled arrangements.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Kimberly Smyth Education Fund, c/o Colony Baptist Church, 2920 U.S. Hwy. 301 N., Ellenton, FL 34222.
—- From the Bradenton Herald —–
Bradenton man identified in collision
Memorial Service
Herald Staff Writer
Kay Smyth had seen news of a fiery collision on Interstate 75 and
called her husband to ask him to be careful, knowing he was en route
to see her and their adopted 13-year-old daughter in Bradenton during
his two-week vacation.
She got no answer and left a message unaware her husband, Edward
Eugene Smyth Jr., died in the crash she had learned about on
“I woke up in the middle of the night and he wasn’t home,” Smyth said,
“and I knew something was wrong.”
The Nov. 15 crash in Gibsonton between Smyth’s car and a fully-loaded
gas tanker sparked a more-than-four-hour inferno, leaving barely
anything to identify him or his car, according to his family. His car
was hit from behind by a pickup, veering Smyth, 55, into the fuel
tanker and ripping off the bumper, which left the license plate out of
the fire – evidence used to track down the car’s owner, his wife said.
A hip bone was found and pelvic X-rays taken years ago in a Fort
Pierce hospital helped identify her husband days after the crash, Kay
Smyth said. If not, she would have had to wait for DNA testing, a
process that could take more than six weeks.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, Smyth had to brake suddenly
when he came upon a slow-moving tractor, a lawn mower used to cut
grass along the interstate, traveling at about 30 mph in the fast
lane. The pickup behind him didn’t stop in time, hitting Smyth from
The family planned a memorial service for 1 p.m. today before the
identification of his remains was made official Saturday, according to
the family.
“Myself and my family, we needed a little closure,” Kay Smyth said.
The memorial is at their Ellenton church, Colony Baptist, 2920 U.S. Hwy. 301 N.
He was a long-distance truck driver, away from home often on trips
that took up to five weeks. Smyth, a 14-year veteran of the Palmetto
Police Department, according to Bradenton Herald archives, started
driving trucks in 2001.
His wife of 27 years described Smyth as a wonderful, honest man and
admired how he stayed home with their daughter the first two years
they had her.
“They had a very special bond because of that,” Kay Smyth said.
She’s angry the lawn mower was in the road at 9 p.m. because she read
reports that it wasn’t authorized to be on the road after 4 p.m., she
“If it wouldn’t have been for that, my husband would very well be
having Thanksgiving with us,” she said. “We met on Thanksgiving 29
years ago.”
Kay moved to Florida from West Virginia for a nursing job and met
Smyth’s parents at church. They invited her to their holiday dinner,
and there she met her future husband.
In September she took early retirement from nursing because of medical
conditions and isn’t working now. She was looking forward to her
husband’s vacation.
“We talked many times a day,” Kay said. “He’d call me from different
states and tell me how beautiful it was.”
Edward Eugene Smyth, Jr.
Where: Colony Baptist Church, 2920 U.S. Hwy. 301 N., Ellenton
When: 1 p.m. Tuesday
Donations: Instead of flowers, the family asks donations be sent to
the Kimberly Smyth Education Fund c/o Colony Baptist Church

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