The Florida Highway Patrol is searching for the driver of a truck whose tire fell off early Monday morning, killing the passenger of an SUV.
According to Lt. Mike Thomas of the Florida Highway Patrol, a truck hauling a white “box-type” trailer was headed southbound on Interstate 75 north of Ocala at about 12:35 a.m. on Monday, April 2.
One of the tractor’s tires came off and crossed the median before hitting the windshield of a northbound Saturn SUV driven by Marlene Salazar, and killing Valeria Herrera, who was riding in the Saturn’s passenger seat, Thomas said.
The truck driver reportedly later stopped at a Petro truck stop and chained the axle of his truck to the trailer, Thomas said, adding that a clerk at the truck stop reported having talked with the trucker. The clerk told police that the trucker said he was hauling a load of potatoes to make a 5 a.m. delivery in the Lakeland, FL, area.
Those clues led investigators to believe the driver worked for a large carrier and that he was possibly heading to a Publix Super Markets Inc. distribution center.
“He didn’t appear nervous – he knew he’d lost his tire and rim somewhere but I don’t think he knew the severity of it coming off,” Thomas said.
Thomas didn’t have a description of the driver or his truck, but he said the driver was not thought to be an owner-operator. The Lakeland Ledger, however, reported Tuesday that witnesses said the driver is a white male between 6-feet-2 and 6-feet-4 inches tall, and between 50 and 60 years old with blond hair.
Thomas said he didn’t believe the driver would be prosecuted for the crash.
“I really seriously doubt there will be anything criminal – there doesn’t seem to be any neglect on the driver’s part,” Thomas said. “We’d like to identify all the parties involved.”
Thomas asked that anyone with knowledge of the accident or the driver’s whereabouts to call the Florida Highway Patrol at (352) 732-1260, ext. 234.
– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer