Two people are dead after a five-vehicle accident Tuesday night on the Blackwater Bridge portion of Interstate 10.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, four tractor-trailers and a van pulling a U-Haul trailer were involved. Donald Alexander, 49, of Bainbridge, Ga., and Roman Skoedopole, 36, of Garland, Texas, both were pulled dead from the Blackwater River after their tractor-trailers were fully or partially submerged.
The crash’s chain of events was not released by the FHP Wednesday evening. However, emergency radio transmissions revealed the challenges faced by first responders.
The original call of an accident on the bridge went out about 7 p.m. Tuesday. According to FHP, the crash occurred in the westbound lane of I-10. Authorities arrived to find one 18-wheeler had traveled over the concrete bridge rail and into the Blackwater River. Another hung over the edge of the bridge, one had its cab in the water and another vehicle was on its side on the bridge when emergency officials arrived.
East Milton Fire Chief Bill Thompson said first responders worked in “cold and chaotic” conditions. Upon arrival, one fire department vehicle slid on the ice, scraping the truck on the side of the bridge. Ambulances were ordered off the bridge by a Lifeguard Ambulance supervisor after the 4-wheel-drive agency vehicle he was driving slid sideways on the icy bridge.
The fire department scene commander called for the Florida Department of Transportation to bring heavy equipment, including a crane, out to remove the larger vehicles.
More than one extrication was necessary to free those involved in the accidents. Divers from the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office and members o the U.S. Coast Guard, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office were involved in the underwater search for Alexander and Skoedopole, whose bodies were missing Tuesday night.
Icy conditions complicated the recovery efforts
“There is debris from one end to another,” Thompson said Wednesday. Emergency crews from Avalon and Bagdad also responded.
According to the FHP, Alexander’s body was recovered Wednesday; Skoedopole’s was recovered Thursday.
The other drivers involved suffered minor injuries. FHP said David Mattadeen, 56, of Palm Bay, was driving a 1988 Ford tractor trailer and had minor injuries.
William J. Smith Sr., Granbury, Texas, the 64-year-old driver of the U-Haul, was taken to Santa Rosa Medical Center along with his passenger, 85-year-old Dorothy Smith. Both were listed with minor injuries.
One of the tractor trailer drivers, Murry Goetting, 54, of Mountainburg Crawford, Ariz., was treated for minor injuries by emergency personnel responding to the scene.
Daily News Staff Writer Tom McLaughlin and Pamela Holt, Press Gazette, contributed to this story.