POLK COUNTY, Fla. – Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd held a news conference Wednesday to urge the public to usher in the new year with safety after he said the sheriff’s office responded to five crashes resulting in eight deaths in a span of just 44 hours.
“When we came back to work Monday morning, from our four-day Christmas holiday break, we were high-fiving, and the reason that we were was we didn’t have not one traffic fatality over the holiday weekend, but that was short lived,” Judd said.
Judd said four people were killed when a man who deputies attempted to pull over on suspicion of abduction and aggravated battery fled and struck a pickup truck Monday afternoon at the intersection of Lake Hatchineha and Watkins roads. The crash catapulted the man’s vehicle, killing him and two people in the car his vehicle landed on. A fourth person was killed when the vehicle they were in struck the pickup truck, which Judd said had been cast in the path of oncoming traffic after initially being hit by the suspect vehicle.
“It was total carnage,” Judd said. “It’s among the worst traffic fatalities we’ve seen in this county.”
Judd said a man riding a bicycle in the center lane of Old Dixie Highway in Auburndale Monday night was struck and killed by a vehicle after several had already swerved to avoid him.
“We have alcohol or drugs suspected on the part of the person on the bicycle who’s now deceased, and that’s now under investigation,” Judd said.
A Lakeland man, 34-year-old Joshua Waters, was arrested on DUI manslaughter and a “litany” of other charges Tuesday when Judd said his improperly loaded trailer fishtailed into oncoming traffic and struck a box truck. A 44-year-old Lakeland man in the truck died from head trauma, Judd said, and his 18-year-old son was hospitalized with critical injuries. The crash occurred on U.S. Highway 98 north of State Road 417, and Judd said it is still under investigation. Upon Waters’ arrest, Judd said that he was uninjured and appeared to be impaired.
That night, Judd said he had just arrived home when he got a call at 6:30 p.m. about a motorcyclist who had died in a crash on U.S. 98 north of Lakeland. According to Judd, the man recently left a VFW post known to serve alcohol, leading deputies to believe the motorcyclist had been drinking before swerving his three-wheel vehicle into oncoming, northbound traffic, where he was struck and killed.
“The bicyclist that was killed we highly suspect had drugs or alcohol or both in the system, we highly suspect the individual that was killed on 98 North on his tricycle motorcycle had been drinking, and we highly suspect that the suspect who killed the man and (injured his) son was intoxicated,” Judd said. “There’s no reason for that in this society, in this community today.”
Judd said the latest fatal crash occurred Wednesday morning when a woman clipped another vehicle with her own, was ejected as her car rolled, and died at the hospital from her injuries. Winter Haven firefighters and police assisted at the scene, Judd said, but the crash is still under investigation and many details have not been released.
Judd used his time at the podium to appeal to drivers, saying they can and should find a safe way home if they become impaired during holidays, or otherwise.
“Folks, we’re about to embark on New Year’s later this week, and I’ve said this over and over and clearly and clearly, and the people who listen are safe: I would much rather see you locked up in the county jail than in the morgue,” Judd said. “Uber is cheap, a lot cheaper than the county jail and a DUI, a lot safer than the morgue where you can end up dead if you drink and drive.”