LAKELAND — The night before Thanksgiving can be one of the most dangerous times of the year to be on the road, and it can be an equally deadly time for encounters with drunk drivers. That’s a key reason why local police departments often issues warnings and advisories as Thanksgiving week begins.
This troubling pattern became a tragic reality in Polk County on Wednesday, when a man was struck and killed in Lakeland.
Following an investigation, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrested 46-year-old Lucretia Bruno of Lakeland, and charged her with DUI Manslaughter, a class 2 Felony, after deputies say she struck and killed a man on Interstate 4 West around 8:45 p.m.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd called it a terrible tragedy that could have been avoided.
“There is never an excuse to drink and drive,” the sheriff said. “A family has lost a loved one because this woman decided to get behind the wheel of a car after consuming 5 or more beers.”
According to the report by Alicia Manautou, public information officer for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, evidence gathered by deputies at the scene, including witness statements, reconstructed how the devastating crash occurred. It actually started with a minor accident with no injuries.
Deputies reported that a white 1999 Ford and a black 2014 Ford Mustang had been involved in a minor crash on westbound I4. Both cars were stopped on the paved shoulder area, as the motorists exchanged drivers’ information, then were preparing to leave.
“The driver of the Mustang and his two passengers were sitting inside their vehicle,” Manautou noted. “The driver of the pick-up truck had walked back to the driver side of his vehicle; his passenger was inside the truck.”
Deputies noted at that moment, a white 2017 Ford Fusion being driven by Bruno entered I-4 from the US 98 ramp, “and was observed in the outside lane driving erratically and drifting over the right fog line several times,” Manautou reported. “As Bruno approached the pick-up truck and Mustang, she drifted even farther over the fog line striking the driver’s side of the pick-up truck and the driver who was standing at the opened door. The impact of the crash propelled the driver into the Fusion’s windshield.”
Bruno crashed into the rear of the Mustang. The impact pushed it forward, causing the pick-up truck’s driver to fall from the Fusion’s windshield, then strike the bumper of the Mustang.
Bruno’s car rotated clockwise, then moved on for about 50 feet before coming to a stop on the north shoulder of I-4.
The driver of the pick-up truck died at the scene. No one else got injured.
“Witnesses said that after the crash, Bruno stumbled from her car and had to steady herself by holding on to her vehicle’s trunk,” Manautou noted. “Bruno told deputies that she had just left a bar where she drank 5 or 6 beers, and she was on her way home.”
Deputies also reported smelling alcohol on Bruno, and noting that her eyes were watery and her speech was slurred.
“Deputies observed Bruno to be unsteady on her feet, she swayed from side to side, lost her balance several times, and would raise her hands away from her side to help steady herself,” Manautou noted, while adding that Bruno consented to a blood alcohol test. The results have not yet been released.
This month, The National Safety Council issued a warning that about 515 people may die on roads across the country this Thanksgiving weekend, which is the highest estimate since 2007. The council noted that many people start celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday on Wednesday night, which can lead to a dangerously high number of people drinking and then getting behind the wheel of a car.
Judd said on any holiday, it’s important to find alternative ways of getting around if you plan to consume alcohol.
“There are so many alternative options available, from calling a a friend or family member to using a ride sharing application,” he said. “Please, this holiday season, and throughout the year, don’t drink and drive.”
Bruno was arrested and is currently in the Polk County Jail. The sheriff’s office reported that Bruno is a secretary at Padgette Elementary School. She was charged with:
- 2 counts of DUI with Property Damage
- and DUI Manslaughter.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book When I Woke Up, You Were All Dead. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.