Hernando County deputy injured in crash involving wrong-way driver

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A Hernando County deputy was sent to the hospital after a crash involving a wrong-way driver.

Sometime after 1 a.m., Deputy David Merced noticed a blue Ford car heading eastbound on Spring Hill Drive with no tag light. He attempted a traffic stop at Omaha Circle intersection, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office. Around the same time, and unbeknownst to the deputy, dispatchers were receiving a call about a wrong-way driver near his location. 

As Deputy Merced turned on his emergency lights he saw the blue vehicle "go into the air." Officials said he had no time to react and the blue car crashed into his cruiser due to the chain reaction.

The wrong-way driver was identified as 33-year-old Eric Lollis, who was traveling west in the eastbound lanes of Spring Hill Drive inside a red 2009 Pontiac G-6. His vehicle was facing northwest in the eastbound lanes, and had extreme front-end damage, deputies said. The deputy's cruiser and blue Ford were facing east. 

Investigators said Lollis exited his vehicle and laid down on the pavement next to it, which is where responding deputies located him. Officials said they smelled burnt marijuana from inside his vehicle and the smell of an alcohol beverage coming from Lollis. Inside his vehicle, deputies said they found 9.4 grams of weed.

The female driver of the blue Ford later told investigators that she saw headlights growing brighter ahead of her. She said the red Pontiac was driving at a high-rate of speed, according to officials. There were two other passengers inside her vehicle. 

For those who live near Spring Hill Drive, the crash is hardly a shock. 

"When I found out about this here accident this morning, it didn't surprise me one bit. Spring Hill is a very busy street, and it's a 45 miles per hour zone. But I have yet to see a car doing 45 miles per hour on Spring Hill," said Jose Santiago, a nearby resident. 

Santiago said that reckless drivers driving under the influence is a huge concern along the busy roadway. 

"Stop these people who are driving drinking, stop them before they create any damage or kill somebody," said Santiago. "They endanger you, me, everybody on the roadway.

The deputy and wrong-way driver were both hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries. There were at least two people in the other car, and all had minor injuries. They were not transported to a hospital, officials said. 

When deputies spoke to Lollis inside his hospital room, they said they could still smell a "strong odor of an alcoholic beverage." They said he couldn't recall anything about the crash, but "learned his lesson."