Downed light pole on I-275 lanes causes spate of wrecks
By JANEL STEPHENS
ST. PETERSBURG -- The light pole lay across three lanes of Interstate 275 in the middle of the night. Zipping north just past 54th Avenue N, driver after driver rounded a corner, crested a knoll -- and saw it. Too late.
Several careened out of control, blowing out a tire, sometimes more. One truck hit the pole so hard it went airborne, damaging all four wheels. More than a dozen drivers whacked the pole, but no one was seriously hurt.
Lt. Sterling King of the Florida Highway Patrol said it was unclear who hit the pole and caused it to come crashing down shortly after 12:30 a.m. Dec. 15.
The best guess is that a vehicle rammed it and then sped off, leaving a darkened interstate with a collapsed pole bestride it.
"The lights are designed in such a way that if they're impacted by a car, they'll break," said Dwayne Kile, design engineer for District 7, which covers Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.
That makes it probable that a driver could crash into it and still drive off. The pole is designed to share the brunt of impact at the 17-inch cast aluminum base and shatter after a hard impact.
Each pole has an arm that extends between 8 and 15 feet from the pole and contains 240 watts of high-pressure sodium lights.
Jason Lusk, a copy editor in the St. Petersburg Times sports department, was one of the drivers who hit the pole. All four tires blew out on his blue 2001 Ford F-150.
Lusk was heading home from work when he saw two cars on the side of the road. He thought they had been pulled over by highway troopers, so he continued driving. Turns out, they had already hit the pole. At that same instant, he hit it.
"I went over the pole and in the air," Lusk said. "I came down with a pretty big thump."
Cars around him were in the same predicament. The road, normally lighted by the rows of lights, was dark. The lights work on an underground cable system. Depending on how the system is wired, one broken light may cause a series of lights to go out, said Kile, the engineer.
Kile said drivers hitting light poles and causing them to break was "an occasional occurance."
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