Thursday, April 26, 2018
Public safety

Troopers identify driver in deadly I-275 wrong-way crash

TAMPA — The man who authorities say caused one of the deadliest car crashes in Hillsborough County in recent years was quick to lend a hand to strangers, friends said.

Daniel Lee Morris, 28, of Tampa liked to work on cars. He was a father figure to his wife's daughter from a prior relationship. He was looking forward to starting a new job after returning from Michigan recently.

The few details that emerged about Morris' life after troopers released his name Tuesday did nothing to explain how it ended.

The Florida Highway Patrol says Morris was hurtling the wrong way on Interstate 275 early Sunday in a friend's SUV when he crashed into a car carrying four University of South Florida fraternity brothers.

The fiery crash killed Morris and the four fraternity brothers.

"I feel like I lost one of my own kids," said Sue Smith of Wimauma, about Morris.

Morris spent part of last week fixing vehicles for Smith and her husband, George, who have known him for years. The image of the man that drove headlong into traffic didn't fit with that of the boy that grew up with her kids and acted like a member of the family, Smith said.

Morris went to East Bay High. He had lived in Michigan and Florida. He had worked at Port Manatee and was preparing to start a job there again Monday, Smith said.

The Smiths put Morris up for a while before he left for Michigan, where his mother and stepfather had moved.

When George Smith could no longer help out during East Bay High School football games because of a disability, it was Morris who stepped in to help.

Morris married Tanya Dunn in 2007. She described him as upbeat. He was a mechanic who loved fixing cars and, even after their separation, still stopped by to visit her teenaged daughter.

"Even during hard times he always had a smile on his face," Dunn said.

Morris was healthy, Dunn said, but in recent years had suffered fainting spells and blacked out. Once, when they were living together, he fell as he walked out of the bathroom. She said he had seen a doctor at least once but did not come away with any medical explanation.

Morris has no criminal record in Florida.

His Florida driver's license was suspended indefinitely in July 2010 for not paying a traffic fine in Hillsborough County, state records show. His driving history also includes being found guilty of driving with a suspended or revoked license in Hillsborough County in January 2007 and driving 86 mph in a 70 mph zone in Sumter County in 2008. Adjudication was withheld in an October 2006 case in Hillsborough County, in which Morris was charged with failure to yield the right of way, according to state records.

Morris had a valid Michigan license at the time of his death. It was suspended briefly in 2012 for a seat belt violation and reinstated about two months later.

The night of the crash, Dunn said, she had heard that Morris had gone to a party.

Troopers said Morris took a 2001 Ford Expedition from a friend, Scott E. Enfinger, 27. Morris had been staying with Enfinger after a recent move back to the bay area from St. Clair Shores, Mich.

Shortly after 2 a.m. Sunday, Morris crashed head-on into a Hyundai Sonata carrying the four friends. Dammie Yesudhas, 21, Jobin Kuriakose, 21, Imtiyaz Jim Ilias, 20, and Ankeet Patel, 22, all died at the scene.

Identifying Morris as the SUV's driver took several days because his body was "very badly burned," FHP spokesman Sgt. Steve Gaskins said.

Other questions remain unanswered after the crash, including why Morris entered the interstate in the wrong direction.

A cellphone video appears to show the white SUV speeding, and a witness who swerved to avoid it moments before the crash told the Tampa Bay Times that Morris showed no signs of stopping or changing lanes.

Troopers are trying to determine if drugs or alcohol played a role in the crash. Toxicology reports will take six to eight weeks to return, Gaskins said.

It's also unclear where Morris entered the interstate, Gaskins said.

Witnesses reported seeing the driver, who was traveling south in a northbound lane, as far north as the E Bearss Avenue exit, Gaskins said. The Ford Explorer had to be going more than 70 mph, he estimated, based on the cellphone video captured by another driver. The crash occurred about 2,000 feet north of the E Busch Boulevard exit. He said Morris could even have made a U-turn from another lane.

"We may never know," Gaskins said.

Tampa dispatchers received several 911 calls about a wrong-way driver in a white SUV about a minute before the crash took place, police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said.

More than 15 minutes after the crash, a Tampa 911 dispatcher took a call from a woman about an SUV that had been taken. The dispatcher, knowing that an SUV had been involved in a crash that killed five people, "put two and two" together and indicated that the reported stolen vehicle was very likely the one involved in the wreck, Davis said. Working with the Highway Patrol, police responded to the person who made the call and turned their information over to troopers.

Times researcher John Martin and staff writers Richard Danielson and Claire Wiseman contributed to this report.

 
Comments
Orlando man sought in Interstate 4 carjackings captured in Tampa

Orlando man sought in Interstate 4 carjackings captured in Tampa

TAMPA — A 43-year-old Orlando man who was being sought in a string of carjackings along Interstate 4 was captured on Thursday, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.Majar L. Jones, 43, was considered armed and dangerous and the subjec...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Florida has one of the highest rates of fatal hit-and-run crashes, study finds

Florida has one of the highest rates of fatal hit-and-run crashes, study finds

Florida is among the top three states with the highest per capita rates of fatal hit-and-run crashes, a new study published on Thursday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found.From 2006 to 2016, the organization examined hit-and-run crashes in...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Deputies: Hernando High student charged in school threat

Deputies: Hernando High student charged in school threat

BROOKSVILLE — A Hernando High School student was arrested Wednesday after deputies said he threatened to get a gun and shoot people at his school on Thursday. The student, 17, was out on suspension from the school, according to a news release. He tol...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Florida man pours gasoline and sets girlfriend on fire, police say

Florida man pours gasoline and sets girlfriend on fire, police say

GAINESVILLE — A 55-year-old Florida man is accused of pouring gasoline on his girlfriend and setting her on fire.Gainesville police arrest report says Roosevelt Kitchen was charged with attempted murder. He was being held Thursday on a $1 million bon...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Arrest made in stolen St. Petersburg car with baby inside

Arrest made in stolen St. Petersburg car with baby inside

ST PETERSBURG — A man accused of stealing a car with a baby inside earlier this week was arrested early Thursday morning when police spotted him in another stolen car. Rashad Webb, 19, no known address, was arrested around 2 a.m. after officers spott...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Long wait at Wingstop ends in brawl, hot oil and 2nd degree burns

Long wait at Wingstop ends in brawl, hot oil and 2nd degree burns

TAMPA — A customer visited Wingstop on Sunday night to pick-up his order. What happened next was off-menu:Robert Williams said he suffered second-degree burns on his back and legs after a Wingstop employee threw hot oil on him during a scuffle.Willia...
Published: 04/26/18
FHP identifies driver in crash that killed

FHP identifies driver in crash that killed "smiling" teen

TRINITY — Friends said what they’ll remember the most about Lillia Morris is that she was always smiling.The 17-year-old Mitchell High School junior was killed Tuesday when a sport-utility vehicle ran a red light on State Road 54 and slammed into the...
Published: 04/26/18
Pasco deputies a hit on ‘LivePD’ television show

Pasco deputies a hit on ‘LivePD’ television show

TRINITY — On any given night, the A&E television show Live PD showcases law enforcement officers from a handful of cities across the country. It gives viewers an unfiltered police ride-along from the safety of their own couches and a peek into how of...
Published: 04/26/18
For some Pasco residents, recent Sheriff’s Office changes aren’t enough

For some Pasco residents, recent Sheriff’s Office changes aren’t enough

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco recently appointed a constitutional law advisor, saying he wanted to ensure good officer conduct and provide a new channel for citizen complaints.Two local human rights organizations, however, say th...
Published: 04/26/18
For senior week, Lakewood High School must mourn a senior

For senior week, Lakewood High School must mourn a senior

ST. PETERSBURG — Lakewood High School principal Erin Savage has never planned a candlelight vigil. But this week, Savage must learn how to do so as her school mourns the tragic death of one of its graduating seniors.Bryson Welton-Williams, 18, died T...
Updated: 12 hours ago