Two Wisconsin siblings killed in a head-on crash in Florida near Daytona Beach on Tuesday night missed their exit after visiting a Christmas lights display when a carjacking suspect fleeing from police slammed into their vehicle, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said.
The veteran sheriff got emotional at a news conference Wednesday afternoon when sharing that the 21-year-old brother and his 18-year-old sister, accompanied by another 13-year-old sibling and a 17-year-old female cousin, died following family home after visiting a Christmas lights exhibit at Daytona International Speedway.
The brother was driving and the sister was the front-seat passenger, Florida Highway Patrol investigators said.
The younger brother and the cousin were taken to separate hospitals in serious condition. One was transported to Halifax Health Medical Center and one was taken to Arnold Palmer Hospital in Orlando, said FHP’s Lt. Kim Montes.
A GoFundMe has been set up to pay for transportation and funeral costs. As of Thursday morning, it had raised more than $60,000 of its $100,000 goal.
‘Killed on impact’
Troopers said the siblings who were killed and the surviving family members were from Omro, Wisconsin, near Oshkosh.
“Those kids didn’t stand a chance. They were killed on impact,” Chitwood said at the Stephen Saboda Training Center in Daytona Beach.
The armed carjacking suspect, 47, of Orlando, who Chitwood described as a career violent criminal, was also killed in the head-on crash. His identity is not being released pending notification of his family, troopers said.
The suspect had a driver’s license that has been revoked since Jan. 14, 2000, said Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Kim Montes.
Chitwood said the incident that ended in tragedy started shortly after 7 p.m. Tuesday when a license plate reader alerted Flagler County sheriff’s deputies that the stolen car taken from a pizza delivery driver in Orlando was in the area of a Walmart in Palm Coast.
The Flagler County deputy spotted the car, but the suspect turned off the white Nissan Maxima’s lights and fled. The deputy pursued him but had to stop because the carjacking suspect was driving recklessly at speeds of 120 mph southbound on Interstate 95, the sheriff said.
A Volusia County deputy, a K-9 officer, then spotted the speeding car and asked for permission to stop it when the suspect started zig-zagging in and out of traffic, Chitwood said.
Christmas lights at Daytona International Speedway
As the deputy turned on his blue lights, the car had gone under the Bellevue Avenue extension overpass. The deputy then saw the brake lights of the car engage. The suspect made a U-turn. The suspect started speeding at least 100 mph — heading north in the southbound lanes, Chitwood said.
As the deputy broadcast that the suspect had changed directions, Daytona Beach police officers and deputies rushed to shut down southbound traffic. Shortly after, another law enforcement officer radioed that he heard a crash, Chitwood said.
“Those kids were coming back from Christmas lights at the Speedway and were following family. The family gets on I-4,” Chitwood said, breaking down. “They miss the exit at the same time that this murderer-thug is barreling the wrong way on I-95 and he hits them head-on.
“My thoughts are that he murdered those kids as if he put a gun to both their heads and shot them,” Chitwood said. “It’s the same exact thing.”
The scene was horrific, Chitwood said, and the entire incident left him speechless.
“If there is any place in the world I would rather be, today is the day, that I would rather be somewhere else,” the sheriff said. “I don’t know what words I can say to the families and parents of these young people.”
The sheriff held up a bundle of paper as he described the suspected carjacker’s life.
“Two hundred pages,” Chitwood said. “Carjacking, home invasion/robbery. He has been incarcerated eight times and he (was) walking amongst us.”
Chitwood said he didn’t understand why the suspect was recklessly trying to get away and destroyed the lives of the victims’ families.
“It is so, so senseless that this murdering thug with no respect for law, no respect for human life, snuffed out these young people’s lives,” Chitwood said.