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Wrong-way driver in fatal I-275 crash had 10 citations

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 09:09 PM
TAMPA -

A motorist accused of driving his car the wrong way on Interstate 275, causing a fatal accident, had racked up 10 driving violations including DUI, driving with a suspended license and careless driving, state records show.

Christopher Ponce, 22, was in serious condition Thursday at Tampa General Hospital. The Florida Highway Patrol continues to investigate how Ponce’s 2012 Ford Fusion ended up going south in the northbound lanes of I-275 in downtown Tampa, where it struck another car head-on.

The driver of the second vehicle, William Brooks Angel, 20, died at the scene. His passengers, Robert Patrick Newberry, 22, of Lutz, and Jay Davis, 20, of Wesley Chapel, were in serious condition Thursday at St. Joseph’s Hospital, the highway patrol said.

Ponce was arrested last year in Tampa for driving with a suspended license, state records show. In 2009, he was arrested by Tallahassee police for DUI.

Ponce pleaded no contest to the charge and had his driver’s license suspended for six months, records show. Ponce also was given six months’ probation and ordered to attend classes about driving under the influence.

Since he became licensed to drive at age 16, Ponce has had eight other traffic citations, records show.

In 2006, he was cited for careless driving, improper passing and speeding. In 2007, he was again given a speeding ticket and during the next two years he was cited for careless driving, not wearing a seatbelt and twice more for speeding.

The highway patrol is investigating whether alcohol or drugs were involved in Thursday’s crash, Sgt. Steve Gaskins said.

The collision happened at 2:49 a.m., just south of the Interstate 4 interchange, a traffic bottleneck known as Malfunction Junction. Troopers said Angel’s 2000 Ford Mustang was traveling north in the center lane of I-275 and was approaching the I-4 junction when Ponce’s car struck the Mustang head-on.

Gaskins said his agency is trying to determine how Ponce ended up headed in the wrong direction and where he entered the highway.

No one involved in the crash was wearing a seat belt, troopers said.

Northbound I-275 downtown was closed about four hours after the collision while troopers investigated and debris was cleared.

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