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Cops defend opening I-75 before crashes

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida Highway Patrol said Monday that conditions were clear enough when they decided to reopen the interstate highway where 10 people were killed later in two deadly pileups amid thick smoke from a 62-acre brushfire and fog.

"We went through the area. We made an assessment. We came to the conclusion that the road was safe to travel and that is when we opened the road up," highway patrol spokesman Lt. Patrick Riordan said.

Yet, after the highway reopened early Sunday morning, visibility along that section of Interstate 75 quickly began to deteriorate, Riordan said. The crashes began shortly after.

"Factors changed quickly," he said. "Drivers have to recognize that the environment changes. They have to be prepared to make good judgments."

A dozen cars and six tractor-trailers were involved, some vehicles bursting into flames. Three bodies were so badly burned they haven't been identified yet, he said.

When asked about why the highway was reopened with the brushfire still burning, Riordan said: "I'm not going to play a what-if situation."-- AP


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