Wrong-way crash on Dames Point Bridge sends 2 to hospital

Driver of truck hit by wrong-way car on I-295 released from hospital, parents say

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - An Acura going north in the southbound lanes of Interstate 295 on the Dames Point Bridge just after 5 a.m. Tuesday crashed head-on into a Dodge Ram pickup truck and overturned, sending both drivers to a hospital.

The Florida Highway Patrol said the man driving the Acura, whose name has not been released, was taken to UF Health Jacksonville with life-threatening injuries after the car burst into flames. The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department put the flames out quickly.

The driver of the pickup, Charles Chitty III, 40, of Jacksonville, was also taken to the hospital in serious condition, according to FHP. He was upgraded to stable condition and was released Tuesday afternoon with bumps, bruises and cuts.

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Chitty (pictured), who was wearing a seat belt, is a lineman and was heading to a job in Central Florida in his work pickup truck when the crash happened, his parents told News4Jax. They said Chitty told them that he tried to avoid the crash with the oncoming car and swerved into the barrier.

The Acura driver was not wearing a seat belt, FHP said.

Chitty's father, Charles Chitty Jr., said he knows the crash could have been much worse. Chitty's parents said they know their son could have easily been killed, and they're relieved he's going to get another chance at life.

"You just to think the worst, so we are really thankful for the airbag and seat belts on the old Dodge," the elder Chitty said. "He said he was going up the bridge and he doesn't really remember seeing the guy, like he didn't have his lights on. Right at the last second he said he was coming fast and he jerked the wheel to the left and hit the inside wall, and he got out somehow. He's not sure how."

According to the accident report, the crash happened about a half-mile north of the Merrill Road exit. The pickup flipped on its side and came to rest against the center barrier wall. The car slid to a stop in the outside lane and caught fire.

"There was a very short time to recognize what the danger was," FHP Capt. Keith Gaston said. "So there was not a lot of braking or evasive swerve action, so it basically was a head-on collision."

Gaston said wrong-way collisions are almost always head-on and very serious. He said they are more likely to happen in the left lane of traffic, so he recommends that drivers stay to the right. Troopers said if motorists see a wrong-way driver they should try to get that driver's attention and call authorities right away.

All southbound lanes and some northbound lanes of I-295 were blocked for several hours after the crash on the bridge. Northbound lanes reopened around 8:45 a.m., while southbound lanes reopened just before 10:30 a.m.

The Florida Highway Patrol said toxicology results are pending, and it's unclear where or why the Acura entered the highway going the wrong direction.

The elder Chitty said he hopes the other driver pulls through, and he's so blessed his son is going to be OK.

"The bottom line is he's in good shape," he said. "He took it real well."

The younger Chitty plans to go back to work Wednesday, his parents said.

Statewide in 2014 there were 48 wrong-way crashes, according to FHP numbers. Of those, 13 were fatal and all of them were at night or in dark conditions.

Of the 13 deadly crashes, FHP investigators confirmed that alcohol or drugs were involved in seven. Three crashes are still pending toxicology results.

In Northeast Florida, there were six wrong-way driver crashes in 2014, and one was fatal.  

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