Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Public safety

Bobby Bowden's grandson one of two killed in Polk crash

The Mitsubishi Lancer plunged into the pond about 2 a.m. Thursday. It settled upside down, its front submerged, its trunk poking out of the water. Three men were trapped inside.

No one saw it go in. No one saw it at all until about six hours later, when refuse workers spotted the black car and called the Polk County Sheriff's Office.

Deputies from the dive team arrived. They knocked on the car and yelled. No one answered.

They carefully tried to get out the driver, who was dead. Hours passed.

About 11:45 a.m. — four hours after they had arrived and about 10 hours after the crash — deputies heard a noise from inside the car.

A man in the back seat had survived. He was trapped in water up to his chin. He was suffering from hypothermia and likely had been unconscious for some time.

Deputies pulled Robert Lewis Edwards, 22, out of the car and took him to a hospital.

Then they learned that Lewis had been trapped inside with not only one dead friend, but a second who had been in the front passenger seat.

The Sheriff's Office identified the other passenger as Taylor Jeffrey Bowden, 23, the grandson of former Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden, 84.

"Our whole family had just celebrated Christmas together in Panama City, as well as celebrated T.J.'s graduation from Florida State just three weeks ago," Bobby Bowden said in a statement Thursday night. "We will cherish those last memories together with T.J. forever."

Deputies identified the driver as Rafael Fernandes De Aguiar Valim, 25, of Winter Haven.

According to preliminary information, the crash occurred about 2 a.m. Thursday after the three men had been drinking at Indigo's Bar on U.S. 17 in Winter Haven.

Deputies said the car was traveling north on Country Club Road when it veered from the roadway. It crashed through a wooden fence and over an embankment into the creek. It appears alcohol was a factor, deputies said.

The car could not easily be seen from the road. The trunk and back wheels of the car stuck out from 5 feet of murky creek water, nearly as black as the car itself.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said it took so long for Edwards to be rescued because deputies thought only one person was inside the car, already deceased.

Murky water obstructed the view inside the car and no one responded when deputies banged on the car, trying to get the attention of anyone inside.

"You have to look out for the safety of those who are going in to retrieve the person," Judd said. He said Edwards was "obviously" unconscious because he did not respond for hours, even as divers made multiple dives.

Taylor Bowden was in Winter Haven visiting his mother for the holidays. He had just graduated from Florida State two weeks ago with a bachelor's degree in criminology, family friends said.

Taylor Bowden's father, Jeff Bowden, is a former Florida State coach under Bobby Bowden. Jeff Bowden is now an assistant coach at the University of Akron, where brother Terry Bowden has been the head coach for two years.

A grandson and a former son-in-law of Bobby Bowden also were killed in 2004 when their car was hit by a utility truck helping restore power outages caused by Hurricane Frances.

Information from the Ledger was used in this report. Weston Phippen can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8321.


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