For the third time this year, a driver going the wrong way on Interstate 275 in Tampa was involved in a fatal crash. The common thread: drugs and alcohol, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
The latest occured early Friday, when a 1997 Honda Accord traveling north in a southbound lane struck an ambulance head-on just north of downtown Tampa, investigators said.
The Accord’s driver was killed, the highway patrol said. He has not been named pending notification of next of kin. He was in his 20s or 30s and was carrying no identification.
Troopers said they suspect he had been drinking or taking drugs.
At 2:44 a.m., the highway patrol was notified of the car on Interstate 4 traveling west in the eastbound lanes near 50th Street, according to an investigator’s report. It wasn’t known where the car entered I-4.
The car continued onto I-275, traveling north in the inside southbound lane, investigators said. The Transcare ambulance was going southbound on I-275 in same lane, and the vehicles collided north of Floribraska Avenue, investigators said.
After impact, the 2007 Ford E350 ambulance turned onto its driver’s side.
The ambulance was not transporting a patient.
The Transcare driver, Tarel Omar Peralta, of Wesley Chapel, and fellow emergency technician Kemecia Tasha Gaye Smith, of Lutz, both 24, were taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital with minor injuries.
They avoided joining the list of fatalities from wrong-way crashes on the highway in 2014.
On Feb. 9, a wrong-way driver near Busch Boulevard slammed his sport utility vehicle into a car carrying four college fraternity brothers, killing all five people. The SUV driver, Daniel Lee Morris, 28, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.20, officials said.
On Feb. 21, Chase Kaleb Leveille, 25, was killed when his car struck a box truck head-on near Bearss Avenue, troopers said. Leveille had a blood-alcohol level of 0.21, officials said.
In Florida, a driver is considered intoxicated with a blood-alcohol count of 0.08 or higher.
“The roadways are designed properly with warning to drivers regarding traveling in the wrong direction to include signage and red reverse reflectors,” highway patrol Sgt. Steve Gaskins said in a news release.
“Drugs and alcohol are the common factor that only the driver can prevent.”
Wrong-way vehicles are involved in only 3 percent of crashes, however they often result in death or injury due to closure speeds, he said. And they leave little time for law enforcment to react or warnings to be broadcast to other drivers, he said.
Friday’s crash “most likely resulted in a four minutes or less travel time for the wrong-way driver to impact the ambulance,” he said.