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Fla. 22 Vehicle Pileup Kills Three

March 8, 2000

WELLBORN, Fla. (AP) _ Blinding smoke from a nearby forest fire caused a massive traffic pileup on a north Florida interstate Wednesday, killing three people and injuring 21 others, officials said.

Twenty-two vehicles were involved in the crash, including a tractor-trailer carrying muric acid, said Lt. Ken Knowles, spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol. Acid leaking from the truck hampered rescue efforts, but Knowles said it did pose a danger.

``The low visibility was a result of the forest fire,″ Knowles said.

Because of so much twisted wreckage, it took several hours for authorities to determine how many vehicles were involved. The injured, including a Hamilton County sheriff’s deputy, were taken to hospitals.

The accident occurred shortly before 8 a.m. About 17 miles of Interstate 10 were closed from Lake City to Live Oak, which is about 75 miles east of Tallahassee.

Murel McDonald, Suwanee County emergency services manager, said when he arrived shortly after the accident, smoke from a fire at Osceola National Park blanketed the ground. The 7,000-acre fire _ about 10 miles north of the crash _ was intentionally set, officials have said.

Erik Gebauer, of Melbourne, Fla., said he was driving a Mustang that slid under a tractor trailer.

``I don’t understand how I lived through that,″ said Gebauer, his voice shaking. ``All I can remember was pushing that freaking door. I felt death right behind me. I can’t believe I made it.″

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