Fla. officers recall massive interstate wreckage
By Amy L. Edwards
BARTOW, Fla. — Polk County Deputy Jack "Carlton" Turner III could hear the tractor-trailers sliding toward him. He was surrounded by fire. Pieces of debris and shattered windshields struck the deputy as he tried to help dozens of confused and injured motorists.
His own patrol car had been struck several times, but that didn't stop Turner from rescuing as many people as he could who were injured in Wednesday's deadly 70-car pileup on Interstate 4.
Turner was the first law-enforcement officer to come across the massive wreckage, and on Monday the 26-year-old deputy spoke publicly for the first time about what he encountered.
"I came across many people that were disoriented, looking for family members, looking for basically whatever they could," he said. "I came across many that were walking around back into vehicles that were still impacting."
Deputy Paul Buoniconti, who arrived at the scene after Turner, said he was walking through traffic with his flashlight when he came across a man trapped inside a vehicle pinned under a tractor-trailer. That truck was pinned by another tractor-trailer.
Buoniconti couldn't see the injured man, but he was coherent and spoke. The man said he couldn't move his arms or legs. He told Buoniconti his wife was calling on his cell phone, but he couldn't get to the phone to answer.
Buoniconti said he feared the man wouldn't survive, and the deputy thought he should be able to speak with his wife. So the deputy used his cell phone to call the man's wife. Buoniconti put the call on speakerphone, and the couple spoke briefly.
"He told her he loved her, and she said, 'I love you, and I'll be at the hospital when you get there,' " he said.
It took rescuers four to five hours to rescue the man. Buoniconti said the man is alive, but his condition is unknown.
On Monday, the Florida Highway Patrol identified the four motorists killed in the crash as Jorge Fundora, 51, of Tampa; Michael Fricke, 34, of Tampa; Darren Scott Snyder, 35, of Auburndale; and Joseph Noel, 57, of Lakeland.
Polk County Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Nelson said the cause of death for each of the men is pending toxicology results. He said the bodies were "burned beyond recognition," and medical and dental records were not useful in identifying them.
Meanwhile, the FHP reported Monday that it has called in additional troopers to help investigate the crash and help build a timeline of events.
On Monday, Turner said that when he arrived at the accident scene, he couldn't see through the thick fog and smoke and it was nearly impossible to reach everyone who needed help.
"I was trying to basically get to whoever was yelling for help the loudest," he said.
Turner said he didn't know how many people he helped rescue. He would not comment about the motorists he couldn't save.
"It's a really tough feeling," he said. "I feel there's really nothing I can do. Even if I had a full fire crew to get to them, there's still nothing that could have been done."
Copyright 2008 Sentinel Communications Co.
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