Driver in fatal wrong-way crash on I-275 was extremely drunk, autopsy finds (w/video)

Published March 11, 2014

TAMPA — Daniel Lee Morris' death puzzled friends and family.

Why did he drive an SUV the wrong way on Interstate 275, killing himself and four University of South Florida fraternity brothers in another car?

A possible answer came Monday in a toxicology report: Morris was drunk.

Morris, 28, of Tampa had a blood-alcohol level of 0.20 when he caused the Feb. 9 crash, more than twice the legal limit, according to a report by the Hillsborough Medical Examiner's Office. Under Florida law, a driver is considered impaired with a level of 0.08 or above.

Morris also had a trace of marijuana in his blood.

"That doesn't sound like Danny," said Morris' mother, May Matthews, who lives in St. Clair Shores, Mich. "Something must have happened down there. He never would have driven the car if he was drinking that much."

Dr. Leszek Chrostowski, the associate medical examiner who performed the autopsy, said it is impossible to know exactly how impaired Morris may have been. Everyone, he said, handles alcohol differently.

Chrostowski said the cannabis in Morris' blood was very low.

"He could have had some marijuana right before this (crash) or the day before," he said.

Chrostowski said Morris died instantly of a dislocated neck and other injuries. He was already dead when the SUV caught fire and burned his body.

"He didn't even have enough time to bleed from his wounds," Chrostowski said.

Matthews said she took some comfort from the finding. "I wondered about that," she said. "I didn't want my kid to suffer."

It was shortly after 2 a.m. when Morris drove a friend's 2001 Ford Expedition south in I-275's northbound lanes, not even bothering to swerve to avoid oncoming traffic, according to witnesses.

About 2,000 feet north of Busch Boulevard, Morris collided with a 2010 Hyundai Sonata with the four USF fraternity brothers.

The collision was captured in a cellphone video widely circulated on the Internet.

Morris and the four men, Dammie Yesudhas, 21; Jobin Kuriakose, 21; Imtiyaz Jim Ilias, 20; and Ankeet Patel, 22, all died at the scene.

Patel's sister, Krupa Patel, said she isn't surprised that Morris was intoxicated.

"I don't think alcohol was the only factor in him doing what he did," Patel said. "I feel like he was emotionally distressed for some reason and alcohol was just fuel to the fire."

The autopsy reports for her brother and Ilias also were released Monday. They showed the men, passengers in the vehicle, died of massive trauma.

A Florida Highway Patrol investigation is pending. The agency has not yet determined where Morris entered I-275 driving the wrong way, said Sgt. Steve Gaskins, FHP spokesman.

The SUV belonged to Morris' house mate in Seminole Heights, Scott Enfinger, who said Morris took it without permission.

In a 911 call after Morris drove off, Enfinger's fiancee told police Morris had taken the vehicle after "something went out of control" at her birthday party.

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"We'd all had a few drinks," the fiancee, Christina Baker, told police, "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 may have "been under some pressure." She did not elaborate, and neither she nor Enfinger could be reached to comment Monday.

Morris' mother said she does not know what may have been bothering her son.

"I don't know," Matthews said. "I may never know."

William R. Levesque can be reached at (813) 226-3432.