Deputy Seriously Injured in Multi-Vehicle Tampa Pileup Started By Towing Crane

September 17th, 2010 by Staff

TAMPA | Owners of a towing company suspect a mattress in the roadway caused a massive pileup Thursday that injured a Hillsborough sheriff’s deputy and sent seven others to the hospital, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Initially, deputies said a 45-ton crane’s air brakes might have failed, sending it careening into a busy intersection and triggering a chain reaction of crashes.

The crane broad-sided a sheriff’s cruiser, dragging it 100 feet across a median into oncoming traffic, officials said.

Patrol Deputy Deborah Walker, 51, was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital. Her condition initially was described by deputies as “extremely critical” but by 2:45 p.m., they were calling it “serious,” an improvement.

She is expected to survive, said sheriff’s spokesman Larry McKinnon.

“It’s a miracle,” said Capt. Alan Hill, noting how close the crane tire had come to the 26-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office.

Injuries to the other motorists were not life-threatening, McKinnon said.

A HART bus, a dump truck, a sport utility vehicle and a van were also part of the pileup, which occurred at Hillsborough Avenue and 56th Street about 11:19 a.m.

Drivers of the van and SUV were taken to hospitals, along with five bus passengers, authorities said.

“It’s horrific. There are no words,” said Nicole Posante, who was eating at a nearby Hardee’s when the intersection blew up. “Truthfully, it brought tears to my eyes.”

Cautioning that the assessment was preliminary, the Sheriff’s Office first said the crane’s brakes apparently failed as it traveled eastbound on Hillsborough Avenue.

But apparent at the scene was a mattress in the undercarriage of the crane.

Sheriff’s spokesman McKinnon said deputies were investigating whether the mattress could have interfered with the driver’s ability to stop the vehicle, which bears the logo of Anthony Crane Rental.

Connecticut-based Terex Corp. manufactured the crane.

Mike Bazinet, a spokesman for the company, said Terex would cooperate with local investigators, but couldn’t comment on details surrounding the crash until they have more information.

“I don’t think it would be appropriate for us to go into engineering specifications on that crane,” he said.

The impact dragged the northbound sheriff’s cruiser through traffic, the Sheriff’s Office said.

The crashes, and subsequent rescue efforts, obliterated the cruiser’s roof, crushed its back end and smashed both sides.

Nichole Simmon, 30, works at the Denny’s on Hillsborough Avenue.

She was on the phone outside talking to her children’s father when she heard skidding and several crashes.

“I ran over to see if I could help,” she said.

First she ran to the destroyed sheriff’s cruiser.

“I looked in and didn’t see any movement,” she said.

The deputy was slumped over on the middle console. Simmon saw blood on her arm.

Simmon went to the blue Honda CRV, flipped on its side. She saw one driver, a man who appeared to be in his 30s. He was talking. People asked if he was OK, and he said yes.

All around her, others had also stopped to help.

“There were just so many people, right off the bat,” she said.

“I was just like, ‘Oh, my God,’” she said. “That’s all I could say. I was just like, ‘I’ve never seen anything like that. I’ve never seen anything like that.’”

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