MANATEE -- The Florida Highway Patrol continues to investigate what caused a 47-vehicle pileup on Interstate 75 at University Parkway Friday afternoon, leaving the southbound lanes closed for six hours.
Officials, as well as involved drivers, said a hard rain that strained visibility contributed to the 12 or more accidents spanning the roadway near mile marker 213.
"But drivers' error was a contributing factor in all this," said FHP Lt. Chris Miller. "Drivers are responsible for changing their driving to match the weather conditions. If heavy rain, fog -- whatever conditions exist -- they have to reduce their speed and increase following distance so they can take evasive action safely."
Miller said an investigation is expected to be completed within 10 days. All drivers and witnesses will be interviewed as FHP works to "piece all of this together to get a complete picture," Miller said. Charges of careless driving and failure to use due care are pending, he said.
Preliminary observations show at least two small collisions on the south end of the overpass, Miller said.
"As the other traffic was coming up onto the crash scene, everybody started
hitting brakes and secondary collisions happened behind them," Miller said. "It was definitely a domino effect."
First responders were dispatched at 3:11 p.m. and the southbound lanes reopened at 9:09 p.m.
Fifty-two people were injured. Two of those were airlifted with critical injuries and 20 others were taken by ambulance to local hospitals. No one was killed and no life-threatening injuries were reported, according to FHP.
Emergency personnel from Manatee and Sarasota counties responded to the scene.
"It was a multi-county, multi-agency effort," Miller said. "Everybody worked well together, and things went as efficiently as possible for the circumstances that were present."
Ron Koper, Manatee County EMS director, said annual training for multi-casualty incidents played a key role in handling the situation.
"You never expect something of that magnitude, but you certainly plan for it," Koper said. "It's probably one of the largest crashes we've dealt with since the Skyway accident 10-plus years ago."
Miller said in his 14 years as a state trooper, he has never seen a collision so large. Officials seemed more shocked by the number of vehicles involved than the absence of serious injury.
"Interstate accidents are very hit and miss; it's either significant injury or surprisingly minor injury," Koper said. "When you back up and look at a larger view, it looks tremendous, even though it was a matter of numerous smaller crash scenes."
Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.