A Land O' Lakes man said he was forced to jump off the Howard Frankland Bridge Tuesday night into the water below to avoid being crushed to death between a trailer and car.
"I would've died if I didn't jump," said Ismel Hernandez, 41. "It was very dark, the water was cold and I was afraid of sharks."
Hernandez and another passenger, Steve Carballo, 27, were riding in a pickup truck that was being driven by Leonard Hicks, 34, northbound on I-275 at 10 p.m., when their trailer separated at milepost 36, causing the vehicle to become disabled in the inside lane, according the Florida Highway Patrol.
Troopers said the men were attempting to secure the trailer when a car being driven by David Rivera, 24, plowed into it.
"It all happened instantaneously," Hernandez said. "The car hit towards me and I jumped over the railing into the water."
Hernandez said he did a belly flop into Tampa Bay and was forced to tread water for more than a half hour with big fish circling him, before a rope was thrown to him and he was rescued.
"I am happy to be alive," he said.
Hernandez, who's from Cuba, said he has only been in the United States for 4 months and it was his first day on the job as a general contractor for a company out of Lutz. The Land O' Lakes man said his body was sore from hitting the water and he had some road rash on his arm but was otherwise OK.
"It was very traumatic," said Hernandez.
The driver of the car was not cited because troopers determined he was unable to see the trailer in time to stop. Hicks was cited for improper or unsecured load. Nobody was seriously injured in the crash, according to FHP.