Traffic on U.S. 1 backed up for eight hours both ways Tuesday morning after three tractor-trailers crashed just south of Long Key Bridge.
Crews worked for two hours to cut free Angel Velazquez, 36, of Miami, who was trapped in the cab of his semi. He was airlifted to Ryder Trauma Center in Miami in stable condition, said Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Kathy McKinney.
The crash occurred about 2:30 a.m. when the southbound Velazquez rear-ended a tractor-trailer driven by Nelson Morales, 42, of Miami, who was at a standstill at Mile Marker 64 due to road construction. Morales' tractor-trailer rammed into a tractor-trailer in front of him driven by Kenneth Lougheed, 54, of Tamarac, according to FHP reports.
Lougheed and Morales were both taken to Fishermen's Hospital with minor injuries. Velazquez's injuries were not life-threatening, according to authorities.
All three drivers were wearing seat belts, and neither alcohol nor drugs were believed to be factors in the crash, according to reports.
Velazquez apparently didn't see Morales had stopped, but troopers were still determining how fast Morales was traveling when the wreck occurred, McKinney said. The crash occurred with such force that the Mack truck Velazquez was driving jettisoned its drive shaft and jackknifed, according to FHP reports.
Velazquez was cited for careless driving.
His Mack truck ended up perched precariously on the bridge wall. Crews were worried about the truck falling as well as about damaging the wall as they worked to free him, McKinney said.
Troopers, Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputies and firefighters worked all morning to clear the scene. They opened one lane to alternating northbound and southbound traffic at 9:30 a.m.; it took another hour to fully reopen U.S. 1, McKinney said.
Lougheed and Morales were driving Sysco food trucks, according to reports released by FHP spokesman Trooper Joe Sanchez in Miami. Velazquez was in a Nighthawk Trucking vehicle out of Miami.
The crash marked one of the biggest to occur on U.S. 1 in recent memory in terms of debris on the road and the headaches for other motorists and emergency crews, McKinney said.
"It's been a while since we've had a crash this significant," she said. "The road was closed for about eight hours. By 9 a.m., traffic was backed up southbound about eight miles and nearly that bad northbound. It disrupted school bus routes and a lot of other plans."