Investigators will know why an SUV zoomed through an I-10 median and then slammed into an 18 wheeler if its driver survives. The mid-morning collision critically injured 20-year-old Erica Childress. According to investigators, she's fighting for her life at the University of South Alabama Medical Center.
The accident was on the eastbound side of I-10, just before the Cedar Lake Road exit. For more than two hours, wreckage littered the highway, and snarled traffic. But that section of the interstate reopened at 12:30 p.m.
Sirens pierced the crisp Monday morning sky near Cedar Lake Road.
"Traffic is going to be tied up on this signal 1-S," officer David Prahl radioed to a dispatcher.
Harold Whitted was at the very front of the I-10 logjam. He was on the interstate at 10:30, on his way home from work, when he saw an SUV careen across the grassy median, and slam right into an oncoming 18 wheeler.
Whitted called the scene unfolding in front of him, "Pretty heartbreaking."
The veterinary technician immediately pulled over, dashed to mangled car and desperately tried to save Erica Childress' life.
"She was still breathing. But we couldn't even see her face or nothing," Whitted said.
He worked with another driver to free Childress from the wreckage.
"She was jammed between the passenger seat and the passenger door," explained Whitted.
Once she was out of the SUV, emergency personnel treated Childress and rushed her to the hospital.
"Normally, when we do see something like this, if they live through it, it's a miracle," commented Biloxi officer Darryl Montiforte.
At that point, police began to focus on the I-10 traffic jam behind the accident scene.
"I'm going to send 173 and 176 down to you," Prahl told a fellow officer. "10-4," was the response back to him.
The violent collision put the brakes on mid-morning traffic. Cars and trucks on the eastbound side of I-10 from Cedar Lake Road back to east Gulfport didn't move for more than two hours. Officer Prahl determined a solution to ease the traffic mess was back at exit 41.
"You're going to shut down all the traffic coming eastbound, and just veer it off the Woolmarket exit," he announced.
At the scene, debris from the wreckage littered the highway. Shattered glass, and mangled metal came from Childress' SUV. An axle and two tires fell off the jackknifed truck.
"The driver of the 18 wheeler tried to avoid it as best as possible," Prahl said.
Montiforte led the accident investigation.
"For some unknown reason, she came across the median," he said. "He slammed on brakes, and she hit his third axle."
Erica Childress is 20-years-old. Investigators said she was on her way to work at the Beef O'Brady's in Gulfport when she lost control over her SUV. Authorities said she was in critical condition at the USA Medical Center with multiple broken bones.