TAMPA — Police arrested a 26-year-old man they say drove the wrong way while drunk and caused a multi-vehicle crash that injured several people late Friday on the Courtney Campbell Causeway.
Collin John Cole faces two counts of driving under the influence causing serious bodily injury and charges of DUI with property damage and leaving the scene.
Police did not immediately identify any of those injured but said one person remains in critical condition and another is in serious condition.
Other drivers and passengers were taken to the hospital with less serious injuries.
A couple who narrowly avoided a head-on collision recounted the scene and its surreal aftermath.
Jamall Anderson was driving east over the bridge with his girlfriend, Christina Rodriguez, after leaving a football game he’d been coaching. It was about five minutes to 10 p.m. Suddenly, Anderson recalled, oncoming headlights appeared about 40 yards away, approaching fast.
He jerked the wheel, veering his Toyota Corolla to safety on the road’s shoulder. Within seconds, the couple heard the wrong-way vehicle collide with a car behind them.
"No brakes screeching, no nothing," Anderson said. "Just a loud boom."
Rodriguez said the sound was horrific.
"The lady behind us, there was no opportunity for her to do what we did," she said.
Even before this collision, Cole caused another crash, Tampa police said.
Officials said Cole was driving the wrong way in a Ford F-150 when he hit the rear of a Hyundai Santa Fe just east of Ben T. Davis Beach, but didn’t stop. He fled west in the eastbound lane and hit a Ford Mustang, police said, and still did not stop.
That’s when Cole slammed into a Honda Pilot head-on, police said, sending his truck flying into another head-on crash with a Honda Accord.
Having heard the collision, Anderson and Rodriguez, both 40-year-old Tampa residents, called 911 and got out to assess the damage. They saw a woman pinned in the driver’s seat of the Honda Pilot, unconscious for a few minutes. Two young boys were in the backseat.
"Bless their hearts, they were completely in shock and weren’t processing what was happening," Rodriguez said.
It took first responders hours to clear the wreckage. Much of the causeway was closed Friday evening and into Saturday morning.
According to his arrest report, Cole is the owner of CoVar Transportation. CoVar’s website lists him as the president of the trucking and bulk transportation company based in Safety Harbor.
The website emphasizes that Cole’s company will only hire drivers who have had no DUIs in the past decade.
He was booked into the Hillsborough County Jail around 5 a.m. Saturday and was being held on a $4,750 bail.
Anderson, who has co-written a book with Tampa Bay Times columnist and bureau chief Ernest Hooper, said he hopes the driver learns a serious lesson.