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Polk County sheriff's sergeant dies after crash in parking lot

WINTER HAVEN — A Polk County sheriff's sergeant died Sunday after a sport utility vehicle careened through a parking lot and struck his patrol car as he exited it, slamming it into him.

Wesley Richard Whitmore, a 15-year veteran of the Polk County Sheriff's Office, was parked outside a 7-Eleven convenience store at Spirit Lake Road and Recker Highway at about 10:30 a.m. when the crash occurred.

This is what happened, the Sheriff's Office said:

A Cadillac Escalade driven by a 79-year-old man was traveling south on Spirit Lake Road when it crashed through a metal roadside barrier and struck Wanda Perez of Winter Haven as she stood outside her business.

The SUV went on to hit a corner of that business, then continue through the parking lot, which connects with the parking lot of the 7-Eleven where Whitmore was parked.

Whitmore, 60, had just gotten out of his patrol car when the SUV struck it, pushing it into the sergeant and spinning it 180 degrees.

The SUV then tore through the parking lot, through shrubs, down an embankment into a retention pond and back up into the intersection, where it finally stopped.

Deputies found no indication of brakes being applied by the SUV's driver, Leo John Saunders of Winter Haven. It was unclear Sunday why Saunders lost control.

Whitmore was pronounced dead at Winter Haven Hospital shortly after the crash.

Perez and Saunders were taken to Winter Haven Hospital for treatment of non-life threatening injuries.

As of Sunday evening, Saunders was being admitted to the hospital and Perez was expected to be released.

Whitmore was married and had two grown children. He retired from the U.S. Air Force after 20 years of service. He became a Polk County detention deputy in 1995 and transferred to deputy sheriff in 1998. He was promoted sergeant in 2008 and was assigned to the Winter Haven area.

"He was a leader among men," said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3374

Polk County sheriff's sergeant dies after crash in parking lot 12/12/10 [Last modified: Sunday, December 12, 2010 7:59pm]

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