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1 year later, families gather to remember 6 victims in devastating Fort Worth pileup crash, honor first responders

Six names. Six lives that perished in the horrific crash one year ago.

FORT WORTH, Texas — Aaron Watson.

Michael Wells.

Christopher Vardy.

William D Williams.

Tiffany Gerred.

Tamara Mendoza.

Six names. Six lives that perished in the horrific crash one year ago.

On that morning of Feb. 11, 2021, black ice covered the express lanes of Interstate 35 in Fort Worth. It caused a chain reaction of cars and trucks sliding into each other, leaving nearly 130 vehicles mangled and twisted in the aftermath. Dozens were also hurt.

"A scene that big: I’ve never seen anything like that," Forth Worth Police Department Chief Neil Noakes said. "I pray to God I never see anything like that again."

On the one-year anniversary of the crash, family and leaders from Fort Worth gathered to remember those who died. It's a day that has weighed heavy on the minds for many. 

“The thought of facing this day literally made me nauseous," said Cindy Gerred, Tiffany Gerred's mother. "I was dreading this day to the depths of my core."

One year ago, families began their days like usual, never imagining how drastically their lives would change.

"These were people that were on their way to work at the beginning of that winter storm last year, and never came home," Fort Worth mayor Mattie Parker said. "So, I certainly will remember that as I go home this weekend."

Credit: Ariel Plasencia / WFAA
From L-R: Tiffany Gerred, 34; Christopher Vardy, 49; Aaron Watson, 45; Tamara Mendoza, 46; William Williams, 54; Michael Wells, 47

911 calls and body camera video from the Fort Worth Police Department showed the true scale of the accident, which stretched for nearly a half-mile. And while it is difficult to re-experience, it also highlighted the heroic actions of first responders, some of whom had been hurt in the crash, too.

Trey McDaniel and Jesse Robinson, both medics who were off-duty at the time, helped other first responders rescue more than a dozen people from cars before getting care themselves.

“You cannot train for something like that,” McDaniel told WFAA.

Firefighters from Station 31 were among those who responded to the scene. 

"You get there and it's cars everywhere, gasoline everywhere. Vapors," described station engineer Cody Smith. "You're still hearing impacts of cars behind you, and the chaos in front of you."

"It was a surreal sight," added engineer Matt Brown "It took a second to stop and go, all of this is overwhelming, but we have to start figuring out where to go with this thing."

RELATED: Preliminary NTSB report shares new details about victims' deaths caused by Fort Worth pileup

That's why on Friday, the city recognized first responders, too, declaring the day "First Responders Day."

To show appreciation to the first responders, like James Bennett, Jr. of Beard's Towing, Tiffany Gerred's loved ones started the organization FW 2.11 in her honor.

"Tiffany was a ferocious friend and family member," her brother Jeff Gerred described. "So if you were in her circle, there’s nothing she wouldn’t do for you. We want her name to have some positivity on it for today and forever. This is how she would want to give back and just be positive light in the community."

"I’m sure she is proud and loving every minute of this," mom Cindy added.

For Bennett, it's a touching gesture from those who were once strangers, but who are now bound by a day they all hope will never fade from memory.

"I didn’t know their back story. I didn’t know what they actually looked like in physical presence, so today was a pretty emotional day for everybody involved," he said.

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