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8 dead in 48 hours from series of Polk County crashes, sheriff says

Four died in one of the holiday week collisions, blamed on a man a deputy was following after reports he had been beating his girlfriend, Sheriff Grady Judd said.
Sheriff Grady Judd displays photos of four vehicles involved in a crash that claimed the lives of four people Monday in southeastern Polk County.
Sheriff Grady Judd displays photos of four vehicles involved in a crash that claimed the lives of four people Monday in southeastern Polk County. [ Polk County Sheriff's Office ]
Published Dec. 29, 2021
Updated Dec. 29, 2021

WINTER HAVEN — A man fleeing from a deputy after beating his girlfriend caused a four-vehicle crash Monday that claimed the lives of four people in eastern Polk County, Sheriff Grady Judd said.

They are among eight people killed in five vehicle crashes within 48 hours in Polk County, some involving alcohol or drugs, Judd said at a Wednesday news conference.

“This craziness has got to stop,” Judd said, urging people to find other ways home rather than drive drunk this holiday week. “I don’t want to see you killed or maimed, and I’ve seen way too much of it in the last 44 hours.”

At a news conference Wednesday, Sheriff Grady Judd displayed a photo of 35-year-old Riquelme Villar-Villalona of Poinciana. Villar-Villalona caused a crash that killed four people, including himself, Judd said.
At a news conference Wednesday, Sheriff Grady Judd displayed a photo of 35-year-old Riquelme Villar-Villalona of Poinciana. Villar-Villalona caused a crash that killed four people, including himself, Judd said. [ Polk County Sheriff's Office ]

Judd gave this account of the Monday crash:

The Sheriff’s Office received a call about noon about a man beating a woman and dragging her into a black Mazda. Judd quoted the caller saying, “She is bleeding, you’ve got to stop him.”

A deputy spotted the car headed south on Marigold Avenue near Poinciana, 14 miles east of Haines City, and activated his lights in an effort to pull the car over.

The Mazda driver, later identified as 35-year-old Riquelme Villar-Villalona of Poinciana, immediately veered into the northbound lanes and sped into oncoming traffic. The deputy, concerned about driver safety, turned off the patrol car lights and followed the Mazda at a distance, trying to determine whether the woman was still in the car.

Villar-Villalona was still driving at a high rate of speed several miles away when his 2019 Mazda CX-5 was captured on video headed west on Lake Hatchineha Road. The video shows the deputy trailing about a third of a mile behind.

As Villar-Villalona approached Watkins Road, he hit the rear of a 2016 Ford F-150 pickup, causing it to spin into oncoming eastbound traffic and collide with a 2021 Toyota Tacoma pickup.

The collision sent the Mazda airborne into the top of an eastbound 2020 Ford Escape. Villar-Villalona was ejected and died at the scene.

Two people in the Escape also died, the driver, a 38-year-old man; and a passenger, a 73-year-old woman. Two other passengers were hospitalized in stable condition. The Tacoma driver, a 48-year-old man, was taken to a hospital where he later died from his injuries. A passenger was treated for her injuries and released. The four occupants of the F-150, two women and two girls, escaped injury.

“It was total carnage,” Judd said. “It’s among the worst traffic fatalities we’ve seen in this county.”

Judd praised the deputy for backing away from a pursuit as he tried to keep track of the Mazda. The deputy rendered first aid when he came upon the crash scene.

Earlier, detectives had learned that the Mazda driver’s girlfriend was undergoing treatment at a Poinciana hospital for cuts she suffered in the attack. She refused to cooperate with deputies.

“After a 911 call generated to help her, keep her safe, from this very violent guy who ultimately killed three people and himself with his crazy, wild, out-of-control passions,” Judd said.

Four other people died in four separate crashes this week, Judd said.

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On Monday, a 45-year-old woman clipped the rear of another vehicle, causing her vehicle to roll and ejecting her. She died from her injuries.

On Monday night, an Auburndale man riding a bicycle in the center of the road was struck by a vehicle and killed. Several other vehicles had swerved to avoid missing the bicyclist earlier, Judd said. Deputies suspect drugs or alcohol were involved.

On Tuesday night, along U.S. 98 north of Lakeland, a man riding a three-wheel motorcycle veered into oncoming traffic and was struck and killed. He had just left a club that serves alcohol, Judd said.

Also on Tuesday night, a pickup driver hauling a trailer overloaded with roofing materials on U.S. 98 hit a bread truck when the trailer fishtailed, Judd said. The man driving the bread truck was killed and his 18-year-old son was seriously injured. The pickup driver, 34-year-old Joshua Waters, faces charges including DUI manslaughter.

Joshua Waters, 34, faces charges including DUI manslaughter in one of five fatal vehicle crashes in Polk County this holiday week.
Joshua Waters, 34, faces charges including DUI manslaughter in one of five fatal vehicle crashes in Polk County this holiday week. [ Polk County Sheriff's Office ]

Judd said more details about the crashes would be released later.

The sheriff said he encountered a dangerous driver Tuesday when he saw him run a red light long after it had changed. The man was issued a citation.

“Why did I not see a T-bone crash? There just happened not to be a car coming in the other direction,” the sheriff said.

“I called my wife and said just stay home … until this wave is over.”