PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. -- Palm Beach County has had more road debris accidents than any county in Florida according to the most recent data from the state.
Between 2012 and 2014 there were more than 450 debris-related crashes in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, affecting almost 750 people and injuring dozens, one fatally.
Holden Amory was driving along I-95 southbound, keeping up with the flow of traffic near the Palmetto Park Road exit in May, on the way to deliver music equipment to a friend.
"And I guess the accident happened between Palmetto and Hillsboro. Yeah, I got hit in the face with a piece of metal," he said.
A 20-pound chunk of metal came through his windshield and hit him in the face. Unbelievably, Amory was able to slow to a stop without injuring other drivers. There was blood everywhere and a broken face.
"If you can imagine it was just like this pale, like, green fog almost. Just completely encompassing everything. And you could just see through this little hole in the center of that. And I could kind of hear these voices talking to me. And being really confused, having no idea what's going on," he said.
He was able to maintain consciousness until help arrived.
"I swallowed my nose that day. All the bones and cartilage I swallowed, so my nose doesn't exist, it's a piece of metal," he said.
He was wearing Ray Ban sunglasses that afternoon. Only three tiny pieces of the glasses have been found in his car, which still sits, splattered with blood and glittering with broken glass in his garage.
There are thousands of debris-related crashes in the state of Florida each year, but the most recent crash data available shows Palm Beach County had the most debris-related crashes of any county in the state. From 2011 to 2014, there were 451 debris-related crashes in the WPTV viewing area alone, which includes Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties.
Chunks of tire and palm fronds are common in South Florida, but dangerous items come in all shapes and sizes. Some of what has been pulled from area roads could be considered bizarre.
John Mattison is the Field Operations Manager for the Florida Department of Transportation in Palm Beach County. He heads up a team that tries to keep hundreds of miles of road clean for millions of cars.
He picked up a chunk of metal that appeared similar in shape and weight to the one Amory had encountered. It was picked up on a Palm Beach County roadway just a day before his interview with NewsChannel 5.
"If this kicks up, it could go through your windshield, your engine block. If it hits you, it will kill you," he said.
A Dumpster on the FDOT property is emptied once or twice a week. On this particular day, the Dumpster is overflowing with palm fronds, wooden pallets, election signs and a king-sized mattress. Mattison says the team once found a Jacuzzi in the middle of a road, as well as a Dumpster that was similar to the one holding all the collected debris.
Mattison thinks the biggest problem is drivers failing to tie things down properly before getting on the road. Another issue is when others drivers fail to call *FHP or local law enforcement to report debris seen in the roads so it can be picked up.
"Maybe it's complacency, complacent, like it's not going to happen to me," Mattison said.
In August in Palm Beach County, the FDOT team picked up more than 83,000 pounds of debris on I-95 and another 9,500 pounds from side roads. The total is similar to the weight of 9 or 10 elephants.
MAP OF DEBRIS-RELATED CRASHES, 2012-2014 IN PALM BEACH CO., ACCORDING TO STATE DATA:
Amory has undergone several surgeries and has more planned in the future. On the side where he was hit, he can blink his eye and feel part of his face again. Doctors were skeptical he would regain the functions. Amory says his two front teeth will fall out at some point.
Amory is a talented musician who has allowed his most difficult experiences to manifest into helping others. He has tried to be proactive in what he can control, focusing on being positive with his attitude. He now plans to advocate for road debris safety and he wants to help others dealing with major trauma.
"That's the scariest part, is like, it's so out of your power. The big message that I want to give to people is that, the way that you react to situations is totally on you. It's 100% on you how you respond to something," Amory said.
While he has been approached by surgeons offering to help diminish his facial scar, he has instructed doctors, he wants to keep some of it visible.
Amory has never been able to find the source of that metal, though he suspects it was a brake pad that fell from an unsecured load. He hopes his scar will serve as an important reminder for those carrying items or driving behind them to take extra care.
If you see debris in the roadway, call *FHP or dial local law enforcement so the problem can be cleaned up by qualified workers.
In a recent CNN article, family members of road debris crash victims suggested every driver ask these simple questions:
• Have I overloaded my vehicle or trailer?
• Have I tied large objects directly to the vehicle?
• Is the entire load secured at the back, sides and top with rope, netting and straps?
• Is there any chance something might fall or blow out of my vehicle?
• What would happen to my load if I hit a bump, had to brake suddenly or was hit by another vehicle?
• Would I feel safe driving behind my secured load?