TAMPA – Florida Highway Patrol dispatchers, after receiving numerous calls about a wrong-way driver on Interstate 275 early Sunday, began watching the 2001 Ford Expedition on highway surveillance cameras but lost sight of the vehicle moments before it crashed head-on into a car killing four University of South Florida fraternity brothers.
The driver of the Ford, Daniel Lee Morris, 28, also was killed in the fiery crash.
The glimpse into what went on that night was made public this week in a series of 911 calls released by the highway patrol, along with a chilling recorded telephone conversation between dispatchers with the patrol and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
After a flurry of calls from motorists reporting the wrong-way driver, the highway patrol dispatcher, speaking to the county dispatcher, says: “We just got three or four calls on it. I’m hoping it doesn’t hit nobody.”
Just then, the video cameras along the interstate, which show real-time traffic but do not record images, are monitored and highway patrol dispatchers watch helplessly as the white SUV barrels south near the Fletcher Avenue interchange.
“Where’s he at?” the dispatcher says. “He just passed Fletcher. He’s in the fast lane passing Fletcher right now. He’s in the middle of the road now. What’s he doing? He’s just passed Fletcher.”
The county dispatcher says there are two deputies nearby, but she’s unsure how close they are.
“He passed Fletcher,” the highway patrol dispatcher says. “He’s speeding up right now; really going really fast. He’s approaching Fowler.
“There’s so much traffic. I don’t know how he got around them.”
At that point, the SUV stops, the dispatcher says.
“Is that him right there, pulled over? He’s at the 48-mile marker. He’s stopped for some reason. He’s on the right side.
“He’s taking off again, still in the middle of the road. He just took off again, just past the 48-mile marker. Took off again, really fast.”
At that point, the dispatchers lose sight of the SUV. Moments later they get calls of a crash.
“We just got a call,” the county dispatcher tells the highway patrol. “It’s a white Ford. There’s a vehicle fire.”
“I see smoke,” the highway patrol dispatcher says, viewing the camera image. “Man. It’s pretty bad. It’s bad.”
Several calls were made by motorists prior to the wreck, which happened just north of Busch Boulevard, killing Morris along with Jobin Joy Kuriakose, 21, of Orlando, Ankeet Harshad Patel, 22, of Melbourne, Imtiyaz Ilias, 20, of Fort Myers, and Dammie Yesudhas, 21, of Melbourne, all in a 2010 Hyundai Sonata.
One of those callers reported seeing the SUV going south in the northbound lanes near the apex of Interstate 275 and Interstate 75 in Pasco County, about 11 miles north of where the wreck occurred.
The Ford was reported stolen a half-hour after the wreck. The owner, Scott Enfinger, was a friend of Morris and both were at a party late Saturday at Enfinger’s home. On Thursday, Tampa police released two 911 calls from a woman at the party reporting the vehicle stolen.
An unidentified woman said Morris grabbed the keys and took off.
The first 911 call came in at 2:26 a.m. Sunday, and she said the vehicle was taken a half-hour to 45 minutes prior to the call.
“He was upset, that’s why he left,” she said, though she didn’t reveal why Morris was upset.
She said she was unaware of any medical or psychological problems. “He had been under some pressure,” she said and that may be the reason he left.
“There was no reason for him to take off, and he took off and has not come back,” she told the dispatcher. She said he had a couple of drinks, “but other than that, he was fine the entire night. There was no problem until about an hour ago.”
The next call came 10 minutes later, by the same woman.
She said “something got out of control,” and Morris took the vehicle. In the background, a man is cursing and shouting, “He stole it.”
“He took the keys and left out of nowhere,” she said. “I don’t know if he left upset or not.”