Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Public safety

Authorities: Wrong-way drunken driver crashes into Hillsborough patrol car, injuring deputy

TAMPA — A drunken driver heading the wrong way on a darkened road without headlights struck a Hillsborough County patrol cruiser early Sunday, pinning the injured deputy inside the car, authorities said.

The deputy's rescue, sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon said, then played out like a scene from a movie.

It started around 1 a.m. as a 2001 Ford Excursion traveled east — but in the westbound lanes — on Bearss Avenue, McKinnon said.

Headlights off, the sport utility vehicle went into the grass median near the Jimmie B. Keel Regional Library at 2902 W. Bearss Ave. in northwest Hillsborough.

The SUV hit a small tree but kept going to the end of the median, continuing east into the westbound lanes again.

It veered into the path of Deputy Juan Lazu, 47, driving west on routine patrol, McKinnon said. Lazu didn't see the SUV in time to avoid a collision.

The SUV, which authorities said was driven by Angel R. Pena, 42, of Tampa crashed nearly head-on into the 2011 Ford Crown Victoria.

"The only thing that saved his (Lazu's) life," McKinnon said, "was the fact that he had the push bumpers on the front of the car. That and his seat belt."

The crash propelled the patrol vehicle back about 45 feet, trapping Lazu in the smoldering car, McKinnon said.

Lazu radioed for help.

Responding deputies pulled Lazu from his vehicle just before both the SUV and patrol car exploded and burned — similar, McKinnon said, to an action film sequence.

Lazu was taken to Florida Hospital with minor injuries. Released Sunday, Lazu spent the day resting and recovering, McKinnon said, and was not available for an interview.

Part of the Street Crimes Unit, Lazu works in Uniform Patrol District I, which covers parts of north and central Hillsborough County. He has been with the Sheriff's Office since July 2002, McKinnon said.

The SUV's driver, Pena, listed in jail records as a self-employed carpenter, had driven recklessly and made threats that evening, according for his former fiancee.

Cristina Velazquez told Bay News 9 that she had been a passenger with him at some point in the evening before the crash and that she and her kids jumped from his moving vehicle.

He was driving erratically, she said, and threatening that "I'm going to kill you all," she told the television station.

Deputies detected a strong odor of alcohol on Pena after the crash, McKinnon said. Pena was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital and arrested upon release.

Pena faces charges of driving under the influence with property damage and refusal to submit to testing. He was being held Sunday night without bail at the Hillsborough County Jail.

State law enforcement records show Pena has several previous arrests in Hillsborough County, including a 2005 count of driving under the influence, with jail records noting his blood alcohol content as 0.154 and 0.147 percent. In Florida, a driver is presumed impaired at a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent.

Records available Sunday do not show the disposition of that case.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Stephanie Wang can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.

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