Polk sheriff: 8 dead in 44 hours due to car crashes

Investigators say eight people were killed in the span of 44 hours in Polk County due to traffic crashes.

Sheriff Grady Judd said his investigators had just returned from their break after Christmas and were "high-fiving" because there hadn't been a single traffic fatality over the holiday weekend.

"We were excited about that, but that was short-lived," the sheriff said. 

Judd said many of the crashes involved alcohol or drugs, or were otherwise intentional.

"Eight people are dead in the last 44 hours from vehicle crashes. That's got to stop," he said. "This is the craziest we've seen it in a long time… I don't want to see you killed or maimed, and I've seen way too much of it in the last 44 hours."

He described the accidents that claimed the lives of those eight people, including a woman who crashed her car and was ejected, a motorcyclist who swerved into the path of a pick-up truck, and a man who was hit while riding his bicycle in the center lane. The sheriff said they suspected alcohol or drugs were a factor in the latter two crashes.

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Judd then detailed a Tuesday morning crash on US-98, where a pickup truck hauling a loaded trailer of roofing materials was being driven by 34-year-old Joshua Waters.

Investigators said Waters was driving recklessly, causing the trailer to fishtail off the road and into the northbound lane, where it hit a Wonder Bread truck. The crash immediately killed the truck driver and critically injured the passenger, who was the driver's teenage son.

"His 18-year-old son is in extremely, extremely critical condition we don’t know if he is going to make it," Judd said.

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The sheriff said Waters resisted deputies as he was being arrested.

"We still had to wrestle him at the scene. He didn't care," Judd said. "This is a very bad guy. He caused an innocent man to die."

Joshua Waters

Waters is charged with DUI manslaughter, DUI serious bodily injury, DUI with property damage, and resisting an officer.

That crash came one day after three people were killed by a speeding driver who fled from deputies in the Haines City area on Monday. The driver also died in what Judd called "total carnage -- one of the worst we've seen in this county."

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Investigators identified that driver as 35-year-old Riquelme Villar-Villalona.

"Had Villalona survived that crash," the sheriff said, "he would've been charged with three counts of vehicular homicide."

The sheriff's office said they had received a 911 call about a possible abduction.

When a deputy spotted the suspect vehicle, he got behind and turned his lights on -- only for the driver, later identified as Villar-Villalona, to immediately drive head-on into oncoming traffic. That's when Sheriff Judd said the deputy turned off his lights and stopped the pursuit, though he continued following the vehicle from a distance.

The crash happened several miles later, when Villar-Villalona rear-ended a black Ford F-150 that was also going west, causing the pickup to spin and go into the eastbound lane.

Riquelme Villar-Villalona

A silver Toyota Tacoma heading east then hit the F-150, while Villar-Villalona's Mazda went airborne and hit a gray Ford Escape SUV that was also heading east.

The Mazda's roof was torn from the car, and the suspect was ejected. Villar-Villalona was "instantly killed," according to the sheriff's office.

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Two people inside the Ford Escape – a 38-year-old male driver and a 73-year-old female passenger – died at the scene. The driver of the Toyota Tacoma, a 48-year-old man, was taken to a hospital where he later passed away.

All occupants inside the Ford F-150 were uninjured: 67-year-old female driver, 3-year-old female passenger, 16-year-old female passenger, and 41-year-old female passenger.

The other two passengers inside the Ford Escape were hospitalized: a 49-year-old female passenger is critical but stable while the 77-year-old male passenger is stable.

The 19-year-old female passenger inside the Toyota Tacoma was treated and medically cleared.

The sheriff said the other drivers and passengers involved in the crash will not be publicly identified by the agency.