PLANT CITY, Fla. (WFLA) — A Mulberry man landed himself in a hospital after crashing into a Plant City church during a high-speed pursuit Sunday morning, troopers said.
“I was like, OMG,” said Johanna Zambrano. “I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it at first.”
Zambrano is the daughter of the pastor of the church, Iglesia Dios Con Nosotros. Her shock never turned to anger, as she and her congregation forgave the driver and prayed for him.
“We don’t wish anything for this guy but for him to get better,” said Zambrano. “For him to maybe look for God, look for Jesus.”
A criminal report affidavit from the Florida Highway Patrol said a trooper was heading east on Turner Road in Hillsborough County when he spotted a car speeding north on Willow Oak Road.
According to the trooper, the driver failed to stop at the stop sign while turning onto Turner Road, nearly crashing into the trooper’s patrol car.
The trooper began pursuing the vehicle under the assumption that the driver, identified as Damian Alfonso Rios, 25, was driving while impaired.
The report said Rios drove in the wrong lane on Turner Road and continued to run stop signs while driving over 100 mph.
Rios continued fleeing from the trooper until he crashed into the Iglesia Dios Con Nosotros, an evangelical church, at the intersection of SR-60 and Mud Lake Road, the FHP report said.
“It was surprising,” Zambrano explained. “Because that’s never really happened to us, like anywhere.”
Photos showed the vehicle after it showed the front of the church.
The trooper said he tried to get Rios out of his vehicle through his passenger door, but Rios did not speak, looking at his cell phone instead.
“I yelled at the driver to exit the vehicle through the passenger side door and toward me,” the trooper said. “The driver stated he wanted to exit through the driver side door. This exit was blocked by a concrete wall.”
Eventually, the trooper got Rios out of the vehicle. The report said he had a “strong odor of an alcoholic beverage,” was unsteady, and began cursing at the trooper and a Hillsborough deputy that arrived at the scene.
“We’re glad that he wasn’t really hurt, he’s okay,” Zambrano said. “We don’t have anything against him.”
The church even had Sunday service, despite the wind blowing in. An inspector said the car only destroyed the entrance to the building, so the main part was safe to be in.
The congregation moved all the valuables out Sunday afternoon. Since the church rents the property, Zambrano said it’s up to the owner what comes next — but they would like to rebuild and move forward.
“We believe in God and we know that everything that happens really has a purpose,” Zambrano said. “So we’re not really sad or anything.”
The Florida Highway Patrol said Rios’ breath samples showed a breath-alcohol level of .132 and .133. As a result, Rio was charged with reckless driving, fleeing from Law Enforcement at high speeds, DUI, and careless driving.