Sunday, February 25, 2018
Public safety

One dead, four injured in wrong-way Interstate 275 crash near Sunshine Skyway

ST. PETERSBURG — The first call came in at 6:25 a.m.

"Hey, has anyone told you about a wrong-way driver?" the caller asked a Florida Highway Patrol dispatcher.

Less than 20 seconds later, another driver reported seeing a car heading north on the southbound lanes of Interstate 275 near the Sunshine Skyway bridge.

A trooper headed out to investigate. But moments later, more calls came in: The Pontiac heading the wrong way slammed into a white van just before the Dick Misener Bridge span, near the 58th Avenue S overpass.

Sandra R. Weems, the driver of the Pontiac, was killed. The van's driver and three passengers were injured. The southbound lanes were shut down, snarling traffic for hours.

"It happened really, really quick," said Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Steve Gaskins.

Four workers from Tab Glass & Window Corp. were headed to Venice on Monday morning on a work assignment in a company van when David C. Davis, the driver, noticed the Pontiac barreling up the highway, troopers said.

He tried to steer the van out of its way, but couldn't avoid the collision.

Davis, 44, of Palm Harbor and a passenger, Fehim Dapo, 50, of St. Petersburg, sustained minor injuries. Two others, Vincent Edward Ortiz, 38, of Tampa and Dragan Radak, 40, of St. Petersburg, were listed in serious condition Monday afternoon.

All four were taken to Bayfront Medical Center. Davis and Dapo were released hours later, but could not be reached for comment Monday.

Co-workers visited the men at the hospital Monday morning. Among them was Kristin Thomas, vice president of operations. The business has about 50 employees.

"They are four of our most hardest-working employees," Thomas said. "It's a big loss and time loss, and we're worried for them and their families."

Weems, 58, died at the scene.

It was unclear Monday whether she was intoxicated during the crash.

In Florida, Weems has a lengthy criminal record dating back to the 1970s that includes about 50 arrests, including prostitution, theft and drug possession, and nearly a dozen stints in state prison, records show.

She was last released in October 2008 after spending more than a year in state prison on drug-related charges, records show.

The crash remained under investigation Monday as troopers tried to determine how and when Weems entered the southbound lanes.

Because of the lack of witnesses and surveillance video, Gaskins said, those questions may never be answered.

Times staff researcher John Martin and staff writer Kameel Stanley contributed to this report. Laura C. Morel can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386.

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