After hitting a guardrail, a bus and colliding with oncoming vehicles, the semi-big rig crashed into and cracked a barrier wall on a overpass. These individuals are lucky to be alive.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla.- Rescuers said five people were hurt in a head-on crash of a tractor-trailer and a Duval County School District vehicle on State Road 9A at St. Johns Bluff Road on Wednesday morning that caused damage to the overpass.
One victim, 39-year-old Rafaell Harris, a maintenance man for the school district, was flown to Shands Jacksonville Medical Center with critical injuries. Three other victims were taken to Shands and one to the emergency room at Mayo Clinic, all with minor injuries.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, it appears a tire blew on a semi hauling a trailer full of beer northbound about 8:30 a.m., causing the driver, 22-year-old Amnon Rattray Jr., to lose control and the big rig to hit a guardrail, enter the oncoming lane, hit the school truck and three other vehicles. The big rig then overturned and hit the side of the overpass, leaving a crack in the barrier wall.
Two cars struck the trailer and a fifth car swerved to avoid the crash and struck the guardrail. The drivers of those vehicles were 60-year-old Joann Largen, 27-year-old Christina Smith and 27-year-old Ryan Vanhouten, all of Jacksonville. Charles Smith, 46, was a passenger in Christina Smith’s car who suffered minor injuries. Vanhouten was not hurt.
Some crash debris landed on the road below.
“He called me around 8:30 this morning and said he’d been in an accident,” said Regina Maaske, whose son was involved in the crash.
Maaske said she raced down to the scene to check on her son, and when she got there, she saw the chaos.
“He said a truck went over the rail and he had to swerve to hit him,” Maaske said. “It was coming within like two feet of him. He had to swerve and ended up hitting the guardrail.”
Maaske’s son was OK.
“This is pretty horrendous,” said Vanhouten, who was involved in the crash. “Thought it was in a movie.”
Vanhouten said he didn’t have time to think. He only had time to slam on his brakes and try to steer away from what was coming.
“Well, it jumped the rail and hit the other car. The Michelob Ultra trailer started flipping this way, then it landed and started sliding,” he said. “I turned to the left and missed it and ended up hitting the guardrail, and just missed getting hit by that thing.”
Vanhouten said he was shaken up but not hurt.
“I knew the two guys in there were stuck in there. They had to use the Jaws of Life,” Vanhouten said of the truck involved in the crash. “The other couples who got out of the car didn’t seem too bad. They were just a little bruised up and shaken.”
Officials on the scene reopened the northbound lanes about 11:15 a.m., but southbound traffic remained detoured for about seven hours while Florida Department of Transportation inspectors evaluated damage and workers cleared the crash. The southbound lanes reopened just after 3:30 p.m.
FDOT officials said inspectors determined there was no significant damage to the main infrastructure of the load-bearing part of the overpass, but there was damage to the riding surface and the concrete overpass, which will be repaired at a later date. The road was deemed safe for travel.