Sunday, February 25, 2018
Public safety

Listen: 911 call reports stolen SUV minutes after wrong-way crash

TAMPA — The emergency call was placed from a residential street off the east shore of the Hillsborough River in Seminole Heights at 2:36 a.m. Sunday.

"I was having a birthday party at my house. Something went out of control. My brother-in-law took our vehicle," said a hoarse, female voice. "We'd all had a few drinks," she continued, "and all of a sudden he took the keys and left, out of nowhere."

A deeper voice broke in. "He comes back, I'm going to f--- him up, bad," a man growled, as the woman calling tried to hush him.

Daniel Lee Morris, the missing friend who had slipped away from the party in his hosts' SUV, was in fact already dead. And he had taken four others with him.

Two 911 calls from the revelers who shared Morris' last hours with him were released Thursday afternoon by the Tampa Police Department. They add new details to the still incomplete account of how Morris, in the space of hours, went from partying with friends to barreling the wrong way down Interstate 275.

At 2:12 a.m. Sunday, Morris, driving his friend Scott Enfinger's Ford Expedition, slammed into a Hyundai sedan carrying four University of South Florida fraternity brothers. The friends, who had been driving north on the interstate, were killed, as was Morris.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers could not identify his body for days after the fiery crash.

Authorities say they still don't know why Morris ended five lives the way he did. Enfinger's attorney said Thursday that his client also is grasping for answers.

"Nobody knows why he did what he did, or why it even happened," said Tampa attorney Jeffrey Blumenauer, who said he had been retained as legal counsel and spokesman for Enfinger and his family. "Right now, the family would express its condolences to everyone involved in the accident."

A woman at Enfinger's home declined to comment Thursday, referring questions to Blumenauer. Police have not disclosed the names of the woman and man in the 911 calls.

However, Blumenauer said that "brother-in-law" is a term of endearment that Enfinger and his live-in girlfriend, Christina Baker, use for Morris. (They are not actually related, Blumenauer said, but Morris and Enfinger were childhood friends.) Christina Baker's birthday was on Sunday, according to county voter registration records.

As a vigil was held Thursday for the students killed in the crash, some new information emerged about Morris, a 28-year-old who appears in Facebook photos wearing a shy smile and bushy goatee.

Blumenauer said Morris had been living with Enfinger and Baker. He had returned this month to Florida from Michigan, where he was living.

"Mr. Enfinger wanted to give Mr. Morris a new opportunity, so to speak," Blumenauer said.

Carl Blodgett, general manager at Port Manatee, said Morris worked at the port as a forklift operator about five years ago. He dropped by on Friday, Blodgett said, though it was unclear whether he was seeking a job or visiting former co-workers.

Friends have said Morris was expecting to start work at Port Manatee this week, but Blodgett said that was not the case.

"He was not officially rehired," Blodgett said. "We're not actively hiring right now." As news of the accident reached the port this week, Blodgett said, "We were all shocked."

Dispatch communications released Wednesday showed that law enforcement officials observed Morris' fatal blitz down the highway but felt themselves largely helpless to stop him.

Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kris Carson said state officials are thinking about developing a protocol for warning motorists about wrong-way drivers, perhaps using the light-up message boards on interstates.

In the two 911 calls early Sunday morning, less than 10 minutes apart, a woman calling from Enfinger's home on Broad Street in Seminole Heights, or nearby, said she wished to report Morris missing and the SUV stolen.

"Maybe he had been under some pressure," she said, trying to guess why Morris might have abruptly left the birthday party. Asked by the dispatcher if Morris had been drinking, she said, "He'd had, like, one or two, but as far as I know he'd been fine the entire night."

During the first call, at 2:26 a.m., a dispatcher asked, "Where is he supposed to be?"

Morris lay dead or dying just 3 miles away at that moment, the Expedition on fire.

"He's supposed to be here with us," the woman responded, "having a birthday party for my 22nd birthday."

News researcher John Martin and staff writers Jimmy Geurts and William R. Levesque contributed to this report. Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337. Follow him on Twitter @petejamison.

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