Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Crash Shuts Down I-95; Semitruck Slams into 4 Others; Driver Killed, Traffic Crawls

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Crash Shuts Down I-95; Semitruck Slams into 4 Others; Driver Killed, Traffic Crawls

Article excerpt

Byline: Shawna Sundin and Dan Scanlan, Times-Union staff writers

A pre-dawn interstate crash on the southern edge of Jacksonville yesterday involving five semitrucks, explosions and flying kegs of beer left one man dead and hundreds of others late for work and school in a traffic nightmare compounded by previously planned detours.

Four of the semis were stopped on northbound Interstate 95 about a mile from Greenland Road about 3:30 a.m. because of construction in the area when a Budweiser truck going about 60 mph slammed into them, said Lt. Bill Leeper of the Florida Highway Patrol.

The truck ricocheted from one semi to another, igniting a traffic war zone that closed northbound I-95 at County Road 210 for 12 hours, until about 3:30 p.m.

The Budweiser truck caught fire and its driver, 55-year-old Neil Snyder of Lakeland, died at the scene. Two other semis also burned but no one else was injured, Leeper said. Snyder was wearing his seat belt, but information on the others was not available.

Two of the surviving drivers were still at the scene late in the morning.

Randy Vakas of DeLand said he stopped his empty Tankcon FRP Inc. tanker behind another commercial rig when another semi sped up behind them in the dark.

"I looked in the rearview mirror and there was this truck just coming on. He wasn't even slowing down," he said. "When he ricocheted off me, it shot me behind another guy, and the next thing I know -- boom -- a big ball of fire. He shot around and hit those other trucks, and all I saw was a big ball of fire."

Vakas' truck received minimal damage, but Ontario trucker Leonard Frey wasn't as lucky.

He said his customized Kenworth, loaded with fresh peppers from Delray Beach, was stopped a few trucks in front of Vakas' when Snyder's truck hit them. He said he had time to jump out, run across the highway and get into a ditch before "beer kegs, air tanks, fuel tanks, you name it" exploded from the wreckage like "little bombs."

"He hit me big time, and as soon as he did my entire truck was engulfed in flames big time," Frey said.

Explosions were heard for miles, waking up area residents.

Traffic was diverted from I-95 onto 210 east to U.S. 1 and then back onto I-95 near The Avenues mall. But it didn't take long for 210 to get congested, so traffic was later diverted farther south at International Golf Parkway.

Southbound I-95 near 210 also was closed until about 6:30 a.m. because of several minor accidents shortly after the northbound crash, Leeper said.

A few vacationers saw more of St. Johns County than they had expected as their treks north on I-95 were diverted. About 100 Nease High School students and several teachers were late.

"Students from everywhere were delayed," said Robert Schiavone, principal of Nease, which is near U. …

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