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Girl, 5, killed when driver going for beer hits car in Polk, deputies say

A Plant City woman was driving the girl when her car was hit by Ernesto Morales, 32, deputies said. He faces charges including DUI manslaughter.
Ernesto Lopez Morales is being held without bail at the Polk County Jail on a detainer from U.S. immigration authorities.
Ernesto Lopez Morales is being held without bail at the Polk County Jail on a detainer from U.S. immigration authorities. [ Polk County Sheriff's Office ]
Published Oct. 26
Updated Oct. 26

MULBERRY — A 5-year-old girl was killed Saturday after a drunken and speeding driver crashed into the back of a car she was riding in on State Road 60, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office said.

Ernesto Lopez Morales, 32, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, had no headlights on at the time of the 8:30 p.m. crash, the Sheriff’s Office said. Morales had a blood-alcohol content of .108, over the legal limit of .08 for drivers, after drinking six 32-ounce beers, the Sheriff’s Office said. He told deputies he was on his way to buy more.

Morales crashed his 2005 Chevrolet Suburban into the back of a 2016 Hyundai Elantra and pushed it more than 600 feet before it came to a stop, the Sheriff’s Office said. The girl was sitting in the back and died at the scene. Her mother, a Plant City woman, was transported to a hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening.

The Sheriff’s Office said Morales tried to flee the crash scene on foot but was quickly apprehended once deputies arrived. He told deputies he ran away because he did not have insurance or a driver’s license.

“Morales has no regard for the law or human life, and we are going to do everything possible to hold him accountable,” Sheriff Grady Judd said in a news release.

Morales was arrested on charges including DUI manslaughter and leaving the scene of a crash involving a death. He was being held in the Polk County Jail on a detainer from U.S. immigration authorities.