I-75 crash victim's sister speaks

Published On: Jan 31 2012 03:07:42 PM EST
Updated On: Jan 31 2012 06:28:05 PM EST

Jason Raikes

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

The gruesome images of the Interstate 75 pileup crash south of Gainesville early Sunday are a constant reminder of the tragedy that killed 10 people.

But one family has chosen not to look at the photos. They say it hurts too much.

"As a family, we've decided not to pursue looking at that," said Caitlyn Raikes, whose brother, 26-year-old Jason Raikes, died in the crash.

Raikes, in a phone interview, said her family wants to remember Jason as the happy person he was, as can be seen in many family photos.

"Just a really vibrant and good guy," she said. "He was just, he was the best."

Raikes said she doesn't know where her brother was headed the day he ended up in the massive pileup, but he was driving with his girlfriend, 27-year-old Christie Nguyen, of Gainesville, who also died.

"I had text messaged Jason on Thursday or Friday and talked to him," Raikes said. "They came down for Thanksgiving in Richmond (Va.) and spent some time with all of our family, and we got to know Christie a lot better. We'd only met her once before, but she was pretty awesome."

What continues to confuse the family is why Florida Highway Patrol troopers decided to reopen the stretch of I-75 after it had already been closed due to smoke and low visibility in the area.

At a news conference Monday afternoon, FHP Lt. Pat Riordon defended the troopers' actions, but did say a review is underway.

"We have guidelines in place that provide factors to consider when we are deciding to close any roadway," Riordon said. "We rely heavily on the troopers' experience, the person who has physical presence on the scene."

"I'd like to know why they reopened it," Raikes said. "I know that a lot of people are suffering right now, and my heart goes out to them. I'd like to know why it was deemed safe and why this accident occurred."

Gov. Rick Scott has gone as far as calling for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the matter.

Jason Raikes is from Richmond, but has been living in Gainesville pursuing a bachelor's degree. Relatives say their lasting memory is how happy he was.

"This last couple of months with Christie he was just ecstatic," Caitlyn Raikes said. "They were joined at the hip and they were just so happy together."

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