A grandson of former Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden died in a Winter Haven crash early Thursday in which the car was found mostly submerged and upside down in a roadside creek, deputies said.
Another man in the car died, but a survivor was pulled from the car by Polk County sheriff’s divers. Authorities said the man had been in the car for several hours.
The body of Taylor Jeffrey “T.J.” Bowden, 23, of Winter Haven, was found in the car when rescuers arrived. Investigators said the Mitsubishi crashed at about 2 a.m. on Country Club Road, between Dundee and Lake Hamilton roads.
Bowden was a passenger; the car was driven by Winter Haven resident Rafael Fernandes De Aguiar Valim, 25, who also was killed.
Bowden is the son of Jeff Bowden, a former FSU assistant and now an assistant on his brother Terry’s staff at the University of Akron.
“I can’t express the grief I feel right now,” Jeff Bowden said in a statement. “Please keep us in your prayers.”
Jeff and Terry Bowden are sons of Bobby Bowden, the legendary Seminoles coach who retired in 2009.
“Our whole family had just celebrated Christmas together in Panama City, as well as celebrated T.J.’s graduation from Florida State just three weeks ago,” Bobby Bowden, 84, said in a statement released by the University of Akron. “We will cherish those last memories together with T.J. forever.”
The sole survivor, Robert Lewis Edwards, 23, of Boca Raton, was saved by divers more than three hours after rescue efforts began and about nine hours after investigators think the car crashed into the creek. Edwards was in the back seat with water up to his neck and may have been unconscious until divers heard noises from the car, deputies said.
Edwards was being treated for hypothermia and other injuries at Winter Haven Hospital, the sheriff’s office said.
Deputies are investigating whether alcohol was a factor in the crash.
Investigators said the men were at Indigo’s, a bar, game and bowling establishment on U.S. 17 in Winter Haven on Wednesday night and were on their way to a friend’s house when the crash occurred.
Investigators said De Aguiar Valim was driving north on Country Club Road when the car crossed the southbound lane, went through the fence and landed upside down in the water. A wooden fence was broken where the Mitsubishi appeared to enter the water.
Emergency personnel were called at 7:47 a.m. after workers on a refuse truck spotted the vehicle upside down in about 5 feet of water. The cause of the crash was still under investigation Thursday night.
“The car could not be seen from the roadway by passers-by or a normal-sized vehicle,’’ said Carrie Eleazer, a spokeswoman with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. The refuse workers were able to see down the embankment because of the height of their truck, she said.
Around 11:45 a.m., hours after beginning search and rescue efforts, the dive team in the water heard noises coming from the car, Eleazer said in a news release. They established communication with Edwards, who told deputies he was cold and needed help, the spokeswoman said.
The dive team, comprised of deputies Jeff Kistler and Bob Clayton, found Edwards with water up to his neck, and pulled him from the car, the sheriff’s office said.
This is the second time a grandson of Bobby Bowden has died in an car crash. In 2004, 15-year-old Bowden Madden was killed when the car he was in with his father was hit on Interstate 10 by a utility truck during Hurricane Frances. The teen’s father, John Madden, was also killed.