11th victim found days after deadly crash on I-75

February 1, 2012 - 6:25 PM
Deadly Interstate Crash

Forest Rangers with the Florida Forest Service conduct a "mop up" of the Boardwalk Fire in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park south of Gainesville, Fla., Monday, Jan. 30, 2012. The Florida Highway Patrol said Monday that conditions were clear enough when they decided to reopen the interstate highway where 10 people later were killed in two deadly pileups amid thick smoke from a 62-acre brushfire and fog. (AP Photo/The Gainesville Sun, Doug Finger)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A pickup truck involved in a deadly Florida interstate pileup was so badly burned and crushed that it took investigators more than two days to find a third body inside, authorities said Wednesday.

The discovery brings the death toll from the weekend crashes on Interstate 75 to 11. The condition of the wreckage has also prompted investigators to enlist anthropologists to help identify victims.

The newly discovered victim was inside a Dodge pickup truck that crashed into a tractor trailer as it traveled south early Sunday in smoky and foggy conditions, authorities determined Tuesday. The pickup's driver and another passenger were discovered before, but none of the three had been identified Wednesday.

Anthropologists from the University of Florida were looking for any bone fragments and teeth that may help identify the bodies from the pickup. The other eight victims have been identified.

"The vehicle was crushed between multiple vehicles," said Larry Bedore, director of investigations for the medical examiner's office in Gainesville. "It was in the center of an inferno that melted most of the metal and a lot of the glass."

Authorities closed the busy six-lane highway early Sunday because a mix of fog and smoke from a nearby brush fire made visibility difficult. The road was reopened about three hours later after the Highway Patrol determined conditions had improved. The first pileup occurred a short time later.

At least a dozen cars, six tractor trailers and a motorhome collided. Some cars were crushed under the bellies of big rigs. Others burst into flames, making it difficult to identify victims.

The pickup truck with the three unidentified bodies was so badly smashed up that investigators decided to keep it intact with the remains inside the cab until the truck's layers of metal could carefully be peeled back at a sheriff's office carport. It was during that process of removing pieces from the truck that the third body was found.

"It's like opening up a tin can that was in a fire," Bedore said.

The crash sent another 18 people to the hospital.

Members of a Brazilian church near Atlanta had expressed fears that one of the survivors, 15-year-old Lidiane Carmo, could be targeted by immigration officials because she's in the country illegally. But a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman said Wednesday that the girl is not facing deportation.

Five other members of the church called Igreja Internacional da Restauracao, or International Church of the Restoration, were killed in Sunday's crash.

Meanwhile, Florida officials said they are willing to review their protocols in determining when to shut down — and reopen — a major highway. The Highway Patrol was also quick to point out that motorists must be prepared to quickly make good decisions because road conditions can change quickly.

Officials said the decision to close a road is made by a Highway Patrol supervisor, who relies on feedback from troopers who assess road conditions. They use information and forecasts from the National Weather Service. A key piece of information is an index estimating the humidity and smoke dispersion on a scale of 1 to 10. If the score is 7 or higher, the Highway Patrol's protocol is to close the road.

The index score for early Sunday had been forecast to be a 6 in the four-county region that includes the crash site, according to the National Weather Service.