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Drunk driver in Skyway 10K crash was 3 times over legal limit, troopers say

The driver, Kristen Watts of Sarasota, is accused of trying to swing at one trooper after crashing head-on into another trooper’s Highway Patrol SUV.
Kristen Watts, right, was arrested on a charge of DUI involving serious injury and reckless driving after she crashed into a Florida Highway Patrol trooper head-on Sunday.
Kristen Watts, right, was arrested on a charge of DUI involving serious injury and reckless driving after she crashed into a Florida Highway Patrol trooper head-on Sunday. [ Florida Highway Patrol ]
Published Mar. 9|Updated Mar. 10

SARASOTA — A woman who crashed into a trooper head-on Sunday while driving drunk toward the Skyway 10K race recorded a blood-alcohol level more than three times the legal limit for drivers, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

Kristen Kay Watts, 52, of Sarasota, drove past a number of road closure signs around 9 a.m. Sunday while speeding from Manatee County toward the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, troopers said. The northbound span of the bridge was closed to traffic at the time for the 8,000 runners taking part in the annual 10-kilometer race.

To keep Watts from reaching runners, Trooper Toni Schuck rammed her Chevrolet Tahoe head-on into Watts’ 2011 BMW 335i. The Highway Patrol released dramatic dash cam video from the Tahoe showing the collision.

An arrest affidavit obtained by the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday describes what happened after the crash.

Watts immediately got out of her car and stumbled on an injured right ankle before attempting to get back inside. Officers from the Highway Patrol and the Florida Wildlife Commission detained her before she could.

Watts tried to swing at a trooper accompanying her as she was taken by ambulance to Bayfront Hospital St. Petersburg, the affidavit said. Watts was tied down and couldn’t make contact. Her breath smelled of alcohol, her speech was slurred and she had bloodshot, watery eyes.

Watts could not say where she was when she was questioned at the hospital. She began “yelling and verbally abusing the medical staff attempting to treat her,” the affidavit said.

Her blood-alcohol level was recorded at .271 in the hospital, more than three times the legal limit for drivers of .08, the affidavit said.

The driver of the BMW 335i sedan on the left, Kristen Kay Watts of Sarasota, was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence resulting in serious injury on Sunday, March 6, 2022 after she drove onto a portion of Interstate 275 that had been closed for the Skyway 10K race and slammed head-on into a Florida Highway Patrol SUV, at right, resulting in serious injuries to both drivers, troopers said.
The driver of the BMW 335i sedan on the left, Kristen Kay Watts of Sarasota, was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence resulting in serious injury on Sunday, March 6, 2022 after she drove onto a portion of Interstate 275 that had been closed for the Skyway 10K race and slammed head-on into a Florida Highway Patrol SUV, at right, resulting in serious injuries to both drivers, troopers said. [ Florida Highway Patrol ]

Watts was treated for minor injuries and arrested on a charge of DUI involving serious injury. She was taken to the Manatee County Jail, where her blood alcohol level was recorded at .09 more than six hours after the crash.

Watts remained in custody Wednesday at the Manatee County Jail in lieu of $52,000 bail.

A LinkedIn profile for Watts says she is a professional writer and editor for hire. She attended Ohio State University and Florida State, where she studied journalism and communication, the profile said.

The LinkedIn profile for Kristen Kay Watts says she is searching for new opportunities as a writer or editor.
The LinkedIn profile for Kristen Kay Watts says she is searching for new opportunities as a writer or editor. [ LinkedIn ]
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Watts has lived in Sarasota for a year and was unemployed, according to a pretrial release form. She has lived in St. Petersburg during the past decade and turned 52 two days before the crash.

Watts is represented by attorney Kati Patricia Trese with the Public Defender’s Office in Manatee County. Trese did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment made on two phone calls and an email. Relatives of Watts did not respond this week to requests for comment sent via Facebook.

Trooper Schuck was treated at the same hospital as Watts for injuries including a concussion and cuts to the head. The Highway Patrol has not released the full extent of Schuck’s injuries. In a Facebook post Monday, she expressed gratitude for her SUV cruiser.

“You served the state of FL citizens well,” she wrote, alongside a photo of the Tahoe. “I attribute my survival from yesterday to you, my angels and God above!”

Schuck declined a request from the Times on Wednesday for an interview, deferring to a news conference she is scheduled to give Thursday at a Highway Patrol center in Pasco County.

Trooper Toni Schuck has worked for the Florida Highway Patrol for 26 years.
Trooper Toni Schuck has worked for the Florida Highway Patrol for 26 years. [ Florida Highway Patrol ]

Schuck has worked at the agency for 26 years.

Related: Trooper says she was last line of defense as driver neared Skyway 10K runners

Praise for Schuck’s actions has poured in from people far and wide on social media, including many of the runners in Sunday’s Skyway 10K.

“She’s a hero, simple as that,” 29-year-old Stephanie Schwent of Brandon told the Times. “That officer is the reason people like me can run across a bridge for fun, knowing we’ll be safe.”

Race organizers won’t discuss security measures in place for Sunday’s event or whether any changes are being considered, said spokesman James Judge. In a statement to the Times on Tuesday, Judge said that the organizers are “extremely grateful for the heroic actions she took to keep Skyway 10K participants safe.”

Schwent said she saw law enforcement vehicles speeding toward the Manatee end of the Skyway on Sunday but didn’t think much of it at the time. When she heard later what had happened, she got chills thinking back to the 2020 race when she witnessed 48-year-old competitor Justin Doyle collapse. Doyle died later that day.

“I’m so thankful we didn’t have to go through another tragedy this year,” said Schwent, who has run the race each year since its inception in 2018. “We really owe that to the officer and her bravery.”

Stephanie Schwent, of Brandon, was one of thousands of runners at the Skyway 10K on Sunday.
Stephanie Schwent, of Brandon, was one of thousands of runners at the Skyway 10K on Sunday. [ Stephanie Schwent ]
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