MANATEE COUNTY – Rainy weather is believed to have played a role in a dramatic crash Thursday morning on I-75, when a beer truck veered off the JD Young Bridge and fell into the Manatee River.
The driver survived, but the crash is creating questions about the safety of the bridge.
The accident happened around 4:30am in the northbound lanes of the interstate, when the driver lost control of the truck, crashed into the concrete inside wall, and went over the railing into the river. "Due to weather and driver error, the driver lost control, the tractor trailer did jackknife and went into the Manatee River," says Lt. Chris Miller of the Florida Highway Patrol.
The truck was not loaded with any beer at the time of the crash.
The driver, 40-year-old Kevin Dennison of Largo, was able to climb out of the truck and wait for rescuers before being taken to Blake Medical Center with serious injuries.
But as he recovers, the safety of this section of I-75 is in question, due to a similar incident in a nearby spot several years ago.
In that accident, the driver of a southbound fuel tanker truck lost control of his trailer and toppled off the same bridge where it crosses over U.S. 301. His truck landed on U.S. 301 and burst into flames, severely damaging the overpass.
But despite the multiple major accidents in the area, officials say the stretch of roadway is safe. "There are no concerns for this area. There no roadway defects noted in this area, so this is attributed to weather and driver error," says Lt. Miller.
Thursday morning, crews were out assessing the bridge. They found it was structurally sound. There is some minor damage to the concrete barrier wall, and the diesel fuel leaking from the truck is also causing some environmental concerns. "We're coordinating the clean-up effort with some environmental contractors and trying to make sure the water quality stays as safe as possible," says Barley Martin with Florida Fish & Wildlife.
That clean-up was delayed because of the rain and high winds, but officials were able to put barriers in the water to contain the fuel from spreading in the river.