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Victims of ‘horrific’ I-75 pileup on long road to recovery

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Published:   |   Updated: August 10, 2013 at 05:00 PM

TAMPA — One week later, the recovery process is ongoing for many of the people involved in a horrendous accident on Interstate 75 that involved 11 vehicles and injured seven people.

The accident Aug. 3 began when a tractor-trailer rig swerved on southbound I-75 to avoid a collision between two cars in front of it and caused another vehicle to sideswipe several others.

Inside one of those vehicles were Vivian Smith’s relatives, who became trapped when the doors of their white sport utility vehicle were crushed.

“It was horrific,” said Smith, of Wildwood. “That was my family in there.”

Smith’s relatives all survived, with the help of three motorists who witnessed the chain-reaction crash and pried open the doors of the 2004 Honda to retrieve James Lee, 68, his wife, Norma Lee, 65, and their daughters, Donna Lee, 23, and Cathy Lee, 43, all of Seffner.

The road to recovery for the Lees, Smith said, is just beginning.

“They’re going to have a long way to go,” she said.

Norma Lee is still in an intensive care unit at a local hospital, Smith said. Norma Lee’s daughters need physical therapy and rehabilitation for their injuries. James Lee had cuts to his face, a dislocated elbow and a concussion and doesn’t remember any of the accident, she said.

“He saw the truck, then woke up in an ambulance,” Smith said.

Three other people were hurt in the crash, which occurred about 11:30 a.m. on an I-75 overpass just north of State Road 60. There were no fatalities.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, the crashes were caused when William Morton-Holcomb, 33, of Peoria, Ariz., made an improper lane change as he was going south on I-75.

Morton-Holcomb cut off a tractor-trailer rig driven by Miroslav Emilov, 31, of Sarasota, forcing the bigger vehicle to clip the left rear of Morton-Holcomb’s 2011 Chevrolet Traverse, the highway patrol said.

After that collision, the Chevy spun to the outside lane, sideswiping the left sides of four vehicles. One of those vehicles then struck a seventh vehicle.

After the initial collision, the semi struck a 2004 Honda, propelling it into two other vehicles, one of them a red Toyota SUV driven by Jeffrey Brooks, 54, of Pennsylvania. An 11th vehicle veered left to avoid a collision and struck a concrete barrier in the construction zone.

Brooks, who is still listed in critical condition, according to the highway patrol, was trapped in the wreckage for an hour before firefighters freed him.

The other drivers had minor injuries or were taken to hospitals as a precaution.

Morton-Holcomb was cited for making an improper lane change.

The crashes shut down I-75 for about three hours and left a span of crushed cars and wreckage nearly the length of a football field.

In the midst of it all were the Lees, who were being rescued by three good Samaritans.

“We pried them out with crowbars,” said Dave Abey, 39, who was on his way to Anna Maria Island when he saw the pileup. “Everybody was alive. They were wearing seatbelts. We actually had to cut them out of the seatbelts.”

Smith said she was grateful for the kindness of Abey and his friends.

“I just thanked God,” Smith said. “It’s amazing that people will put their lives in danger to help others. They are angels.”

rreyes@tampatrib.com

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