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Wrong-way driver's roommate: 'I had no way of seeing this coming'

TAMPA — The owner of the sport utility vehicle that a Tampa man drove the wrong way down Interstate 275 last weekend, killing himself and four University of South Florida fraternity brothers in a fiery crash, pleaded for the safety and privacy of his family Friday, saying he is worried about his fiancee and five children because of threats that have emerged on social media.

"We couldn't go home for a period of three or four days because of the media, because of the threats we have gotten," said Scott Enfinger, 27, of Tampa. "There's just a wide variety of threats, as far as college students wanting to retaliate. Somebody even mentioned firebombing houses and things."

He added that no threats have been specific, but that he has reported them to his attorney. "I really don't know, because it's social media," he said. "Everybody that has nothing to do all day, pretty much, this is what they do. They sit on and ruin people's lives."

Enfinger's remarks came at a news conference he and his fiancee, Christina Baker, gave at the Ybor City office of their attorney, Jonathan Hackworth. Enfinger said he hired Hackworth after news of the crash spread this week out of concern for the "safety" of his children.

The news conference was the latest development in a tragedy that, nearly a week after it took place, is still largely unexplained.

According to dispatch records and 911 calls released by authorities, Daniel Lee Morris, 28, was observed not long after 2 a.m. Sunday speeding the wrong way in the SUV down Interstate 275 in the northbound lanes.

At 2:12 a.m., he crashed head-on into a Hyundai sedan carrying the four fraternity brothers. The collision was captured in a cellphone video that has been widely circulated on the Internet this week, displaying a dramatic explosion that consumed Enfinger's SUV and burned Morris almost beyond recognition. It took the Florida Highway Patrol days to identify his body.

The other young men killed in the crash were Jobin Kuriakose, 21; Ankeet Patel, 22; Dammie Yesudhas, 21; and Imtiyaz "Jim" Ilias, 20.

Enfinger offered his "deepest, heart-felt condolences" to their families, adding, "there was nothing I could do to stop this, and if I could, I would have moved heavens and earth. … I had no way of seeing this coming."

In 911 call recordings released Thursday by the Tampa Police Department, Baker that night tells a dispatcher she was having a birthday party at the family's house on Broad Street in Seminole Heights when "something went out of control" and Morris drove off in a Ford Expedition.

"We'd all had a few drinks," she said, "and all of a sudden he took the keys and left, out of nowhere." She said Morris had "one or two" drinks, "but as far as I know he'd been fine the entire night."

She said Morris might have "been under some pressure," without specifying what she meant.

At Friday's news conference, Enfinger — wearing jeans and a dark sport coat, his voice sometimes wavering and halting as Baker sat silently beside him — said he wasn't aware of any personal problems that Morris, his childhood friend, might have been dealing with.

About a week earlier, he said, he had driven to Michigan, where Morris was living, to pick him up and bring him back to Florida. The two were planning to seek work this week at Port Manatee, where Morris had previously been a forklift operator.

"We had both needed a fresh start. And he basically just wanted to come back," Enfinger said. "He missed being here in Florida. This is his home."

The only discord at the all-day barbecue and birthday party that preceded the crash, Enfinger said, was between himself and Baker's father.

"It was a family heated discussion, if you will," he said. "And it was just about a little bit of misplaced disrespect they'd had against her, and I thought it was my turn to say something about it."

Morris, Enfinger said, "was the peacekeeper. He was actually in between both of us."

Britney Williams, 25, who lives across the street from Enfinger's house, told the Tampa Bay Times on Friday that she heard and saw people partying Saturday night and early Sunday morning but that the get-together didn't look turbulent.

"There were five or six cars over there. The music was loud, but it was calm," she said. "You could tell they were drinking. They had cups in their hands."

She said she overheard no arguments or fighting from the party, which she said was still going on at least as late as 2 a.m., when Williams left her house.

Enfinger said his last sight of Morris was as his friend ducked inside the house from the back yard — to use the bathroom, he thought. Then he heard the SUV's engine start and ran barefoot into the street.

Enfinger was already speeding away, he said, veering into a hairpin left turn at the end of the block that raised one of the rear wheels off the ground.

"My feet are still raw and bloody from it," Enfinger said. "I ran as far as I possibly could."

Turning back toward his house, breathless, "the last words that I could get out to them was just, 'Call the cops.' "

Peter Jamison can be reached at pjamison@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3337. Follow him on Twitter @petejamison.

Wrong-way crashes

• They happen infrequently, but when they do they prove far more deadly than other crashes.

• Nationally, about 360 people die annually in about 260 wrong-way crashes, a statistic that has not changed much in recent years.

• They occur more frequently at nights and on weekends than on weekdays.

• Wrong-way drivers tend to favor the lane closest to the median — what they may mistake as the "slow lane" but that right-way drivers consider the "fast lane."

•Alcohol impairment is the primary cause of wrong-way crashes, accounting for at least 60 percent of them.

Source: National Transportation Safety Board

Wrong-way driver's roommate: 'I had no way of seeing this coming' 02/14/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 14, 2014 10:44pm]
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