Update: Third victim dies hours after crash beside I-75 south of Ocala
Published: Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 6:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 6:49 p.m.
(Update posted at 2:06 p.m. Sunday) The 52-year-old Ocala man who was hospitalized after being struck beside Interstate 75 has died.
George R. Phillips died Saturday night at Ocala Regional Medical Center, according to a Florida Highway Patrol news release.
FHP: Trooper, tow truck driver killed at crash scene on I-75 near Ocala
(Original article ) OCALA — A Florida Highway Patrol trooper and a tow truck driver were killed Saturday afternoon when a pickup truck hit them on the side of Interstate 75 south of Ocala.
A third person, a man who was standing with them at the scene of an earlier crash near Mile Marker 341, was also hit and critically injured, according to FHP officials.
The trooper was identified as 30-year-old Chelsea Renee Richard, and the tow truck driver was identified as John Duggan. The injured man, George Robert Phillips, was transported to Ocala Regional Medical Center, where he was listed in critical condition late Saturday night.
Richard was a nine-year veteran with FHP and had been with the Ocala District Office for about a year.
The chain of events that led to the fatal collision began around 1:40 p.m. and it involved a red pickup truck and a white Toyota. Richard arrived on scene, investigated the crash and called for a tow company.
About 20 minutes after the first crash, as Richard and Duggan were talking to each other on the side of the road, a seven-vehicle pileup occurred nearby. At about that time, a black pickup hauling a trailer for some reason left the roadway, struck the trooper's vehicle and then hit Richard, Duggan and Phillips, who were standing on the grassy shoulder of southbound I-75 about 9 miles south of State Road 200.
Richard and Duggan died on the scene, according to the FHP. Phillips was taken to ORMC for treatment.
Traffic on both sides of the interstate was backed up for several hours. One southbound lane was open for traffic as investigators continued to work the scene. Though it was not impeded, northbound traffic was backed up for miles as motorists slowed down near the accident scene.
Marion County sheriff's deputies, who were also on the scene, directed traffic and Marion County Fire Rescue officials also were on the scene assisting troopers with the investigation.
Shortly after 7 p.m., troopers and sheriff's deputies stopped what they were doing and stood in single file in the middle of the southbound lanes as two FHP honor guards, each dressed in a coat and trooper hat, reached the fallen trooper while holding an American flag. As Richard's body was placed in a body bag and loaded onto a stretcher, the flag was placed over her body as troopers and deputies stood at attention and saluted her.
By 9:40 p.m., both southbound and northbound lanes were running without delays, officials said.
Troopers said at this point, alcohol was not suspected, no one had been arrested and the investigation was ongoing. The driver of the pickup truck that struck the trooper, tow truck driver and third bystander was interviewed and checked by troopers who were on the scene and later released from the scene.
At a brief news conference held at the Ocala FHP station, Col. David Brierton, the director for the agency, expressed his sympathies and condolences to the families, friends and loved ones of Richard, Duggan and Phillips.
Brierton called Saturday's event “a tragic day” for the FHP, and said Richard chose a life of public service. Richard is survived by her 4-year-old son, parents, a brother and grandparents.
Sgt. Tracy Hisler-Pace, a spokesperson for Troop B, told reporters they won't know the full chain of events for at least a few days. She added they could not put a time frame on when the crash investigation would be completed or why the pickup swerved from the roadway, onto the median and eventually onto the grassy shoulder.
Hisler-Pace, who said she had known Richard, called her a beautiful mother and a wonderful trooper and said she had just seen Richard last Saturday when she was with her son.
Richard's death was the first law enforcement official to have died in the line of duty in Ocala since the death of Marion County Sheriff's Deputy Brian Litz in February 2004.
While it's unknown how many Ocala troopers have died in the line of duty, the last trooper to die from Troop B, of which Ocala is a member, was 10 years ago last week with the death of George Andy Brown III.
Officials said in their 75-year history, Richard was the 45th trooper to have died.
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