DAVENPORT – A Poinciana man, just released from prison in Ohio and driving a motorcycle through Polk County, was killed on Wednesday after the Polk County Sheriff’s Office says he fled the scene of an attempted motor vehicle citation stop, then crashed violently into a van, causing his motorcycle to cross onto the other side of the highway and erupt into flames. Deputies who investigated the crash believe he may have been impaired by alcohol while riding the motorcycle.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is now conducting a fatal crash investigation of the accident that killed Richard E. Wolfe, 46, of 1913 Manatee Court in Poinciana.
It started on Wednesday, March 14, around 5 p.m., when Sergeant Larry Davis, assigned to cover Polk County’s Northeast District, was exiting U.S. 27 on the westbound ramp to Interstate 4 in Davenport when he noticed, as he got onto the on-ramp, a 2003 yellow Honda motorcycle speeding in what he felt was an erratic manner.
Davis also noticed that the driver, later identified as Wolfe, wasn’t wearing a helmet and was dressed only in a pair of blue jean shorts and tennis shoes. It was later determined that Wolfe was driving on a revoked Florida driver’s license. Davis activated his emergency lights and attempted a traffic stop.
“Wolfe initially appeared to be cooperating and slowed near the shoulder of the ramp,” noted Donna C. Wood, public information officer for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, in her report on the crash. “Sergeant Davis also slowed and began to pull along the shoulder of the road as well. Davis then heard the motorcycle engine ‘rev up’ and the motorcycle fled westbound onto Interstate 4 at a high rate of speed.“
Realizing that the motorcyclist was fleeing the scene — even though he was facing non-felony traffic charges — Davis decided not to chase Wolfe, in part because it was now rush hour on the highway. Instead, the sergeant “terminated his traffic stop attempt, deactivated his emergency signals, pulled over and stopped on the shoulder of westbound I-4,” Wood noted. “Sergeant Davis remained on the shoulder of the ramp as he radioed Polk County Sheriff’s Office dispatch to advise the driver had fled in a westbound direction.”
Davis had not gotten close enough to the motorcycle to take down the license tag number, so he wasn’t able to radio that in, although he did not that Wolfe continued driving westbound at a high rate of speed, weaving in and out of traffic.
As it turned out, Davis didn’t need that license tag number. At the same time, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper traveling eastbound on Interstate 4 in the opposite direction noticed the motorcycle about a mile west of the U.S. 27 ramp, traveling at speeds that the trooper estimated to be in excess of 100 miles per hour.
“The motorcycle was traveling so fast, the Florida Highway Patrol trooper did not have time to engage his RADAR to capture a speed,” Wood noted.
Witnesses to the accident later told deputies that Wolfe continued moving westbound, driving erratically, and passed between cars by straddling the dashed divider line. But as Wolfe tried to weave his motorcycle from one lane to another at this very high rate of speed, he lost control and struck the rear left driver’s side of a Chrysler van being driven by Amy L. Rhodes, 28, of Winter Haven.
The crash happened in the westbound lanes two miles west of the U.S. 27 off ramp, where Sergeant Davis had tried to make that traffic stop.
“Wolfe struck the rear of the van face first with enough force to cause the driver’s sunglasses to become embedded into the van,” Wood said. “Due to very serious traumatic injuries, it is believed Wolfe died upon impact with the van.”
Rhodes had four passengers in the van at the time of the collision, but all of them were wearing seatbelts and no one got injured.
After that devastating initial impact, Wolfe and the motorcycle separated, and the motorcycle went flying across three lanes of traffic, through the median, across the cable barrier system, before hitting the median on the opposite side of the highway and stopping in the middle of traffic. The motorcycle then caught on fire.
“Wolfe rolled for over a hundred feet along Interstate 4 and came to rest in the middle and outside lanes of westbound Interstate 4,” Wood said.
Deputies would later contact the motorcycle’s owner, who said Wolfe was his brother, and that Wolfe has just been released from prison in Ohio. Wolfe’s criminal arrest history includes three arrests in Ohio, one in West Virginia and 10 in Florida, including one arrest from out of state for a driving under the influence charge in 2002.
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