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  1. News

Hillsborough deputies: Suicidal man rammed car into Brandon home

A worker starts to patch damage to the home that was rammed by a speeding car early Saturday.

BRANDON — At first Sara McKee thought the thunderous crash and blaring horn were part of a dream.

Her sleep came to a sudden end early Saturday morning — but the loud racket did not.

McKee quickly realized the piercing noise came from a car that had just plowed its way through her mother's house. Headlights blinked on and off in the darkened home.

Fearing the car could catch fire, McKee, 30, grabbed her 5-year-old daughter Micalah and climbed out a bathroom window. They escaped unharmed, and were the only occupants.

"I went from nerves to p----- off to laughing," McKee said. "Then I started crying."

The crash was actually a suicide attempt, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. The agency said Lee Collins, 55, stabbed himself multiple times, then intentionally rammed his blue 2015 Ford Fiesta into the home at 924 Greenbelt Circle.

The crash took place around 6:12 a.m. Deputies said Collins was speeding west at 60 to 70 mph on Brandon Lakes Avenue. He bounced over speed bumps, ran a stop sign and then — instead of turning left or right at Seffner Valrico Road — went straight through the T-intersection, barreling through McKee's backyard fence and screened-in porch.

The subcompact penetrated the rear living room wall and traveled more than 30 feet through the house, stopping just short of the front wall.

It left behind a tunnel of devastation — furniture tossed about and splintered, jagged chunks of drywall sheared away, 2 by 4s shattered and left exposed.

The kitchen was all but destroyed: cabinets were knocked off the walls, water spilled from snapped pipes, and there was no sign the kitchen counter ever existed.

There were no skid marks visible in the backyard grass, which deputies told the family probably meant Collins did not slow down before striking the house.

The crash awoke neighbor Charles Sass, who immediately ran outside, thinking a garbage truck had crashed into his vehicles outside.

"But I didn't see anything," Sass, 55, said. "Then all of a sudden I heard Sara crying and screaming and coming out of her bathroom window."

Sass then woke up his wife and two sons to help get the driver out of the Fiesta. They couldn't open the front doors, Sass said, so Collins crawled between the front bucket seats and got out through a back door.

Sass said Collins was lucid and walked out to the back yard with him before deputies arrived. Sass said the driver's face was covered in blood, but he saw no indication of stab wounds.

"He was saying everything was going wrong for him and he said he just wanted to kill himself," Sass said. "Obviously he was on a mission."

Once structural engineers determined the car could be removed without bringing the house down, around 10 a.m., it was winched through the hole it had carved out.

Later that morning, the family seemed in relatively good spirits. They found a small sign in the rubble that said "This room's a mess" and hung it on a wall that was still intact.

Homeowner Susan McKee, who was not there when the crash took place, said they were fortunate her daughter's bedroom was untouched.

"Now, if it had been an hour or two later, Micalah would have been out here watching cartoons," said Susan McKee, 59, of her granddaughter. "That's the scary thing."

Micalah, the family said, seemed to be handling the shock. The girl's primary concern was for her two 6-month-old kittens, which firefighters found safe after their third search through the wreckage.

Emergency personnel took Collins to Tampa General Hospital for treatment of what deputies called "serious" injuries. Sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said the investigation was ongoing and could not say if Collins would face criminal charges. His condition was not available late Saturday.

Collins lived just half a mile from the crash scene in Valrico. Daughter Alicia Morgan, 35, said she didn't know why her father, a truck driver, would try to kill himself.

Susan McKee said she had already notified her insurance company. Engineers also determined that the house was structurally sound. The 1,700-square-foot home valued at $116,000 would not need to be torn down — but it will need extensive work.

Nor was this the first time a car has crashed near her home. Once, she said, a vehicle struck a telephone pole just behind her fence. Another time, a car breached the back yard.

"When we get this house fixed up," Susan McKee said, "I may put it up on the market."

Times staff writer Katie Mettler contributed to this report. Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or Follow @josh_solomon15.