BRANDON - Debbie Morrison's day at the beach was delayed Saturday when she saw a semi truck on Interstate 75 collide with a red SUV, pinning and crushing the smaller vehicle against a concrete barrier on the far right lane.
A split-second later, a van and a white 2001 Nissan SUV hit the semi truck on the southbound lanes of I-75, she said.
"It all happened so fast," said Morrison, 37, of Winter Haven.
Morrison and two friends stopped their vehicle and ran to the occupants of the Nissan. Four people were trapped inside, said Dave Abey.
"We pried them out with crowbars," said Abey, 39. "Everybody was alive. They were wearing seatbelts. We actually had to cut them out of the seatbelts."
In all, seven people were injured in the crash and taken to area hospitals -- four of listed as trauma alerts, including two listed as critical, but stable. There were no fatalities in the chain-reaction accident involving 11 vehicles.
The crash caused the southbound lanes of I-75 just north of State Road 60 to be shut down for nearly four hours. The roadway was reopened at 3:04 p.m. Northbound traffic on the interstate slowed to a crawl and vehicles were backed up on eastbound I-4 approaching the exit to I-75.
About 40 firefighters and 21 fire rescue vehicles responded to the crash, which occurred about 11:50 a.m. in a construction area on an overpass.
Abey said he was in a truck with Morrison and two other people, cruising in the far left lane about four or five car lengths behind the tractor trailer, which was in the middle lane.
Two cars crashed in front of the semi and the truck driver swerved to avoid the collision, Abey said. That's when the semi truck struck the red 2011 Toyota RAV4 SUV, then pinned it against a concrete rail.
"If that rail wasn't there, the SUV and the truck would've gone over," Abey said.
Ronnie Rivera, spokesman for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, said the driver was the only person in the SUV. That man, later identified by the Florida Highway Patrol as 54-year-old Jeffrey Brooks of Tobyhanna, Pa., was trapped in the wreckage for an hour before firefighters freed him. He was taken by helicopter to Tampa General Hospital, one of the critically injured victims.
The FHP charged William Morton-Holcomb, 33, of Peoria, Ariz. with improperly changing lanes. He was not injured, according to the accident report.
According to the FHP, the Arizona driver was southbound in the outside lane approaching State Road 60 when he changed to the inside lane, cutting off the tractor-trailer rig, a 2013 Volvo model driven by Miroslav Emilov, 31, of Sarasota.
The action caused the big rig to hit the left rear of Morton-Holcomb's 2011 Chevy Traverse. After that collision, the Chevy was redirected to the outside lane, sideswiping the left sides of four other vehicles. One of those vehicles struck a seventh vehicle.
After the initial collision, the semi struck a 2004 Honda, propelling in into two other vehicles. An 11th vehicle veered left to avoid a collision and struck a the concrete rail, a temporary barrier placed in the construction zone.
James Lee, 68, of Seffner, the driver of a 2004 Honda, was critically injured and taken to Tampa General. Two of his passengers, Norma Lee, 65, Donna Lee, 23, and Cathy Lee, 43, all of Seffner, were injured and taken to Tampa General Hospital. Norma Lee and Donna Lee were listed as serious. Cathy Lee was listed as sustaining minor injuries.
Neither the truck driver nor his passenger, Martin Simeonov, 38, also of Sarasota, were injured. The driver of the white Nissan SUV involved in the chain-reaction crash, Ho Hong Bui, 50, of Wesley Chapel, was not injured.
Tribune reporter George Wilkens contributed to this report.