Naples man arrested after Sun City Center crash that injured three children

Published December 28 2017
Updated December 28 2017

RUSKIN — It started Wednesday night with a Ford Explorer tumbling off the side of Interstate 75, two young girls being thrown from the vehicle as it overturned.

It ended 90 minutes later and 13 miles away when, the Florida Highway Patrol said, the driver accused of causing the crash was caught trying to walk away from his wrecked pickup truck.

Billy Noel Catherwood, 63, was arrested on multiple charges of driving under the influence — and records show the Naples man shouldn’t have been driving at all.

Three children inside the sport utility vehicle remain hospitalized after the crash, and one was still in critical condition.

The incident took place about 8:25 p.m., according to the FHP. The 2004 Ford Explorer was driven by Jesus Sandoval, a 35-year-old father. Inside were his kids: Rodner, 10; Sahirys, 8; and Ashley, 6.

The Explorer was heading south in the center lane of I-75. As it approached the exit for State Road 674, also known as Sun City Center Boulevard/E College Avenue, the FHP said, it was rear-ended by a white Ford F-150 pickup truck.

The two girls, Ashley and Sahirys, were not wearing their seat belts and were both ejected from the vehicle. Ashley suffered critical injuries, the FHP said, while Sahirys had serious injuries.

Rodner was buckled in and was not ejected, though he still suffered serious injuries. The father, who was also wearing his seat belt, suffered minor injuries.

The pickup, however, did not stop. The FHP said it continued south on I-75. Troopers found the truck abandoned about 90 minutes later, 13 miles from the crash scene near the Moccasin Wallow Road exit, where it had broken down due to damage it sustained in the crash.

A Manatee County sheriff’s deputy found Catherwood at the bottom of the exit ramp, the FHP said, walking away.

Catherwood was arrested and underwent a Breathalyzer exam. The FHP said it revealed that his blood-alcohol level was 0.15, nearly twice the 0.08 limit at which Florida law presumes someone cannot safely drive.

Catherwood now faces two counts of DUI causing bodily injury, three counts of DUI causing property damage, two counts of failing to remain at a crash involving serious bodily injury, three counts of failing to remain at a crash involving injury and one count of driving without a license while causing death or serious injury.

He was booked into the Manatee County jail where, records show, he was being held without bail late Thursday.

He has twice been convicted of driving under the influence, according to state records, once in connection with a 2002 arrest in Nassau County and once in connection with a 2011 arrest in Collier County.

All four members of the Sandoval family were taken to Tampa General Hospital for treatment. Ashley remained in critical condition Thursday, hospital officials said. Rodner and Sahirys were reported to be in fair condition. The father, Jesus Sandoval, was released from the hospital the night of the crash. The family declined to comment.

Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected] Follow @ByJoshSolomon.