Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Public safety

Rescue attempts fail to save teen driver who plunged into Hillsborough River

TAMPA — A would-be rescuer and firefighters were unable to save a 15-year-old driver who took his sister's car and crashed into the Hillsborough River before daybreak Sunday, authorities said.

The teenager, Roderick Williams of Sulphur Springs, was driving east on the Laurel Street bridge, just south of Interstate 275, about 4:40 a.m. when he lost control of the sedan, hit the guardrail and flipped into the river, police said.

A homeless man in a park nearby saw the crash and called 911, a Tampa police spokesman said.

Another man also saw the crash and jumped into the river to help. But he ultimately had to be rescued from the cold water himself, authorities said.

Police did not release either man's name.

Fire-rescue crews used a ladder to get Williams out of the car, which had sunk about 20 feet below the surface. But he had been underwater too long and died, police said.

Police were investigating why Williams was driving alone, especially on a dark and foggy morning. They said he had taken the car from an older sister without her permission.

No one answered the door Sunday at the teenager's home. Messages left on a cell phone number that a neighbor provided for the boy's mother were not returned.

Police do not believe Williams, who already had a lengthy criminal record, had a learner's permit. State driving records were not available Sunday.

In Florida, a learner's permit can be issued to 15-year-olds after they have passed a written road-rules test and have been granted parental consent. Even so, teens with such a permit are not allowed to drive after 10 p.m. and must always have a licensed driver over the age of 21 in the passenger seat next to them.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show that Williams had been arrested 14 times. The first was on misdemeanor battery and theft charges at age 12. They were dismissed, but he went on to rack up several more arrests, some of them for allegations of violent crimes.

Many of the cases were dropped, the records show. Other charges were reduced, including felony counts of resisting an officer with violence and robbery with a weapon. But records show he had been convicted of a felony charge of battery.

Divers removed the car from the Hillsborough River on Sunday morning, its roof smashed. The bridge was temporarily closed, but has since reopened.

Police were still investigating.

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

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