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FHP Completes Skyway Bridge
Internal Investigation

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Major Ken Howes
Florida Highway Patrol-Tallahassee


TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Highway Patrol today released its conclusions as a result of an internal investigation into circumstances surrounding the Patrol's response to the December 27, 1996, Skyway Bridge chain-reaction traffic crash involving 59 vehicles, one fatality, and multiple injuries.

The internal investigation was ordered by Colonel Ron Grimming, FHP Director, to determine exactly what steps were or were not taken in response to the incident. The investigation has shown the following:

  • On 12-27-97, at approximately 8:12 A.M., a Florida Highway Patrol Duty Officer received a call from a Department of Transportation employee who monitors activity on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The DOT employee advised the Duty Officer of dense fog on the Skyway Bridge.

  • The Duty Officer responded by making inappropriate remarks concerning the motoring public in Pinellas Park.

  • The Duty Officer did not notify or dispatch a trooper to the Skyway Bridge to determine the severity of the fog. Also, the information received from the DOT employee by the FHP Duty Officer was not passed on to any FHP supervisor.

  • The crash occurred at approximately 11:17 A.M. During the period between the call from DOT and the crash, no other calls from DOT or the public regarding fog were received.

  • At the time the Duty Officer received the call, there was no Shift Commander present in the Communications Center to give the information that had been received. There was a supervisor on duty in Pinellas County and at the Tampa FHP office but the Duty Officer did not relay the information to him.

  • There was no zone trooper for the Skyway Bridge on 12-27-96. The assigned trooper was attending a training class at the Pinellas FHP Station on that day. No replacement for that zone was assigned by Pinellas County supervisors for that day.

  • There were no Pinellas County Lieutenants on duty on 12-27-96.

As a result of this incident, the following procedures for monitoring the Skyway Bridge are now in place:

  • A Shift Commander (Lieutenant) is assigned to the FHP Communications Center in Tampa on a 24-hour basis.

  • Variable message signs have been placed at each end of the bridge. These signs have a message pre-programmed which warns of fog on the bridge and further advises motorists to drive at a reduced speed.

  • A trooper has been assigned to patrol the Sunshine Skyway Bridge 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The trooper is responsible for monitoring the travel/weather conditions on the bridge, and when limited visibility makes driving at a normal speed hazardous, the trooper will activate the sign boards on both ends of the bridge.

  • The Florida Highway Patrol Auxiliary has been asked to provide motorist aid assistance and high visibility patrol on the bridge.

  • When the speed limit on the bridge has been reduced to 25 miles per hour, the FHP Shift Commander will assign a second trooper to respond to the bridge. The two troopers will patrol back and forth across alternate sides of the bridge at a speed of 25 miles per hour with blue lights activated. They will continue in this mode until visibility improves to the point that it is safe to have traffic return to a normal, unobstructed flow.

  • If driving/visibility conditions deteriorate to the point where the assigned troopers feel it is no longer safe to allow traffic to cross the bridge, even at the controlled, reduced rate of 25 miles per hour, the FHP Shift Commander will be notified, and the bridge will be closed.

  • DOT will be notified to set up barricades.

  • Local law enforcement will be notified to assist with diverted traffic.

  • The various news media will be notified.

Improved communications between FHP and DOT personnel assigned to the Skyway Bridge surveillance room have been established, including:

  1. A direct phone line into the FHP Communications Center is now available for DOT personnel to report emergencies.

  2. A direct phone line to the FHP Shift Commander is also available to DOT.

  3. A portable radio has been provided to DOT personnel working in the surveillance room which will enable them to monitor FHP radio traffic. This is an experimental program which may be expanded in the future to allow DOT personnel to actually transmit information to FHP via the portable radio.

  4. An administrative phone line has been established in order for DOT to report non-emergencies.

Based on the Patrol's internal investigation, the following allegations were sustained against the FHP Duty Officer:

  1. On 12-27-96, the Duty Officer made an inappropriate comment to the DOT employee. The comment concerned a derogatory description of drivers in Pinellas County, after the Duty Officer had been advised of dense fog conditions on the Skyway Bridge.

  2. The Duty Officer failed to report a critical incident to a supervisor, based on information which had been received from DOT regarding dense fog on the Skyway Bridge.

Major Morris E. Leggett, Troop C Commander, has recommended that the Duty Officer be suspended for 16 hours without pay for violations of FHP Policy.

In addition, as a result of the investigation, the FHP District Commander (Captain) assigned to Pinellas County has been relieved of his command of that District and has been reassigned to Troop C Headquarters in Tampa. The Captain will report to Major Leggett for assignment.

Copies of the internal investigation are available for review (free) or purchase ($23.40) at the Tampa FHP station. Checks should be made payable to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.


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