Fla. highway patrol defends reopening I-75

By MIKE SCHNEIDER | January 30, 2012 | 5:55 PM EST

Florida Highway Patrolmen inspect the damage from a multi-vehicle accident that killed at least nine people, on Interstate 75 near Gainesville, Fla., Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012. Authorities were still trying to determine what caused the pileup on the highway, which had been closed for a time because of the mixture of fog and heavy smoke from a brush fire. At least five cars and six tractor-trailers were involved, and some burst into flame. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Highway Patrol says conditions were clear when they decided to reopen the interstate highway where 10 people were killed in two deadly pileups amid heavy smoke and fog.

Lt. Patrick Riordan said Monday in a news conference that visibility quickly deteriorated after they reopened the highway early Sunday morning. The crashes started shortly after.

About midnight, the highway patrol closed Interstate 75 near Gainesville because of low visibility but reopened it about 3:30 a.m. Pileups began about 15 minutes later, with survivors describing smoke and fog so thick they couldn't see.

Riordan says troopers did their "due diligence" before a sergeant and lieutenant decided to reopen the road. He says drivers have to be alert and be prepared to make good judgments.