Insider extra: See bodycam videos showing aftermath of Florida Gov. DeSantis’ motorcade crash

Crash happened during DeSantis’ presidential campaign in Tennessee

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – A dog that ran onto a Tennessee interstate is believed to be responsible for triggering a chain-reaction vehicle crash that damaged four SUVs being used to carry Governor Ron DeSantis to a presidential campaign event last week, according to police video obtained by News 6.

“If this ain’t a full-blown (expletive) disaster,” a Chattanooga police officer can be heard saying as he surveyed the wrecked vehicles in DeSantis’s motorcade.

The video, which was provided to News 6 by the Chattanooga Police Department through a public record request, shows three of the four wrecked SUVs rented by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents to escort the governor to a private campaign gathering July 25.

The vehicle that was carrying DeSantis at the time of the crash, a white GMC Yukon, had been driven away from the crash site before the first Chattanooga police officer with a body-worn video camera arrived at the scene about 24 minutes after the collision, records show.

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“(DeSantis) already left the scene,” the police officer said to an unidentified person over the phone. “They got him out of here as soon as it happened.”

Several Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers, including the trooper who was leading DeSantis’s motorcade in a marked THP patrol vehicle, were on scene when the first Chattanooga police officers arrived, the video shows.

A THP trooper asked a Chattanooga police officer to take over the crash investigation since a THP vehicle was indirectly involved in the incident, according to a conversation captured on video.

“It just looks better if you have another agency work it,” a Chattanooga police officer said to a fellow officer while explaining why THP was not investigating the motorcade crash.

Representatives from THP did not immediately respond to questions from News 6 inquiring whether it had authorized DeSantis’s vehicle to leave the collision site.

“There were no citations issued and there are no outstanding concerns that require further investigation,” a Chattanooga Police Department spokesperson told News 6.

The three other SUVs in the governor’s motorcade that remained on the interstate were so severely damaged they had to be towed away, records show.

“What a frigging morning. What a way to start the day,” an FDLE agent said to police as the crash investigation was underway. “I’m going to be hearing about this all day.”

According to statements made by police at the crash scene, a dog reportedly ran onto Interstate 75, prompting two cars to crash. The THP patrol vehicle leading DeSantis’s motorcade quickly braked to avoid hitting the stopped cars, a report shows.

The SUV carrying DeSantis, which was following behind the THP patrol vehicle, also stopped.

Two other vehicles in the motorcade were also able to brake in time, the report shows. But the SUV at the rear of the motorcade did not stop, according to the crash report, causing a chain-reaction collision that damaged all four SUVs.

Neither the governor nor any of the seven FDLE agents traveling with him were hurt, records show.

A campaign aide who was sitting next to DeSantis complained of minor injuries but was not taken to the hospital after being examined by a paramedic, the crash report shows.

“At least we didn’t kill anybody,” an FDLE agent said he told his fellow agents after the crash, according to a conversation captured on police video.

News 6 previously obtained this photo of the SUV that was carrying the governor after it arrived at his presidential campaign event. The photo shows relatively minor damage to the GMC Yukon’s tailgate and rear bumper.

The three other SUVs left behind at the crash scene appeared to have sustained significant damage, the police video shows.

All four SUVs in the governor’s motorcade were rented from Avis, according to statements made in the police video. Two FDLE agents can be seen handing over copies of the Avis rental agreements to a Chattanooga police officer.

A THP trooper told a Chattanooga police officer that some FDLE agents were taken to the nearby airport after the crash to rent additional vehicles. Last week an FDLE representative would not disclose whether the state agency used taxpayer money to rent the SUVs for DeSantis’ presidential campaign event.

Under (Florida law), FDLE is directed to provide security for the Governor and other dignitaries,” FDLE spokesperson Gretl Plessinger said in response to questions about whether the agency paid for the Tennessee motorcade vehicles. “The statute also directs FDLE to produce an annual report providing a fiscal accounting of transportation and protective services.”

That annual report is due to the Florida Legislature by Aug. 15, according to Plessinger.

Representatives from DeSantis’s presidential campaign did not respond to questions inquiring whether it paid for the damaged rental vehicles.

DeSantis recently signed a bill that shields the governor’s travel records from public view. That has made it difficult to track the governor’s movements on the campaign trail and identify whether taxpayer dollars are being spent to support his campaign.

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About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.