MULBERRY, Fla. (WFLA) — SR-60 was closed in Polk County for several hours due to a major crash that left two people dead and four others injured on Tuesday.
The crash happened at around 5:41 a.m. along SR-60, just west of Mulberry, and involved two vehicles, according to the sheriff’s office.
A Bartow High School senior was driving to school when a westbound SUV crossed into her path while turning onto another road. The student’s pickup collided with the side of the SUV.
Sheriff Grady Judd said the teenager appeared to have been following the law, according to the sheriff’s office’s preliminary investigation.
Four of the seven people riding in the SUV were ejected. Two landed on the road and two were found along the tree-line of a nearby wooded area.
“It’s a horrible crash,” Sheriff Grady Judd said in a news conference.
The 18-year-old student was seriously injured in the collision, as were the people who were ejected. The student and one other person was air-lifted to Tampa General Hospital. Five people were transported by ambulance to Lakeland Regional Health hospital, where one of them succumbed to their injuries.
“There is a possibility a third may die as a result of their injuries,” Judd said.
Judd said the patients’ conditions range from stable to critical. One person was undergoing emergency surgery at the time of the news conference.
The occupants of the SUV construction workers who were carpooling to their job site, Judd said. Because multiple people were ejected, traffic homicide detectives are working to figure out who was driving the SUV at the time of the crash.
The student is set to graduate from high school this month.
“This was a horrible day, for one group of people starting their work day, and one young lady who was trying to get to Bartow High School for school today as she nears the end of her high school education.”
Judd pointed out multiple fatal crashes in the area, but insisted that the design of the road is not at fault.
Polk County Public Schools stated that it was in contact with the student’s family and providing support.
“We have not sent crisis counselors to the school at this time, but mental health staff are always available on site for anyone who needs help,” the school said in a statement. “We’re wishing the best for the student and her family, and hope that she will make a swift and full recovery.
The Florida Department of Transportation tells News Channel 8 there were 18 crashes, two of them fatal, in the Willow Oak area of State Road 60 from 2016 – 2020, according to the latest verified data.
The agency says it is taking action after Tuesday’s double fatal crash.
“Team members here at the Department will discuss the next course of action to see how we can help prevent accidents like this from happening again, including a review of contributing factors to determine any needed safety improvements,” wrote a FDOT spokesperson in a statement.
FDOT also plans to conduct “educational outreach” in the area regarding safety.
“Without patrols and without red lights, it’s a race track,” said Debra Prevatte, who lives near the crash site and travels this stretch of State Road 60 often.
Prevatte is one of many who posted on social media, asking for changes to be made to make the road safer.
“Everything is an optic illusion right there in that portion. You have hills going up and down, you have the curves and the speed,” she said, meaning people do not realize how fast traffic is moving.
Barbara Shaw lives near the crash site and has witnessed two fatal crashes herself.
She hears crashes often and has been the one to call 911 in the past.
“I don’t even know how they can correct this unless they put flashing lights or something to show people down coming into this area,” she said.
When asked about what could be done to make the road safer, he said a friend of his died in a crash not far from where Tuesday morning’s crash occurred.
But he said the issue is with the drivers, not the road.
“The road is appropriately marked. The speed limit signs are there appropriately but it’s a four lane divided highway with ingress and egress,” he said. “Quite frankly, what can be done is you don’t turn in front of an oncoming vehicle.”