16 injured in Punta Gorda I-75 crash

Published: Updated:
Photo via Dee Hawkins-Garland, of Charlotte County Fire and EMS

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. Sixteen people were injured in a crash Thursday morning on Interstate 75, Charlotte County Fire and EMS said.

The single-vehicle wreck happened around 6:45 a.m. when a truck veered off the highway at mile marker 164, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Joseph Turtulien, 44, of Lehigh Acres, was driving north in a 2003 Ford F-250 with five passengers in the cab and another 10 in the bed of the truck, the FHP said.

A large white truck then switched lanes in front of the Ford. Turtulien attempted to slow down and steer left, as the Ford was approaching the other truck at a high rate of speed.

Turtulien drove onto the grassy center median, then tried to steer back onto the road, according to the FHP.

However, the Ford swerved multiple times across lanes, hit the median again and overturned, ejecting the passengers in the bed of the truck.

“If you are not restrained by a seat belt, you’re increasing the probability you could be ejected from the car, which increases the probability you become injured, or worse, and die in a traffic crash,” FHP Lt. Greg Bueno.

The interstate was shut down in both directions for several hours, a Charlotte County Fire and EMS official said. All lanes reopened just before 10 a.m.

Eight people were taken to hospitals in Charlotte County, and eight others were taken to Lee Memorial Hospital, according to a Charlotte County Fire and EMS official.

Five of the patients were classified as trauma alerts, and two of the patients were taken to Lee Memorial Hospital via Aeromed helicopter.

Seven of the occupants, including Turtulien, sustained serious injuries. Nine others had minor injuries, according to troopers.

Florida law states riding in the bed of a truck is only illegal for minors.

WINK News reporter John Trierweiler went live via Facebook to showcase the scene of the wreck:

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