FORT MEADE, Fla. (WFLA) — Residents of Tampa and Frostproof were among four people killed in a fiery collision in Fort Meade late Wednesday night.
Investigators with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office say that around 11:15 p.m., a passerby saw the aftermath of a traffic crash on U.S. Hwy 98 West, west of Adams Road in Fort Meade. One vehicle was fully engulfed in flames. The witness called 911.
Based on preliminary evidence at the scene, investigators say it appears a black 1999 Toyota 4Runner driven by Christian Bautista, 23, of Frostproof, veered from the westbound lane into the eastbound lane and into the path of an eastbound black 2005 Chrysler Pacifica. It is not known why Bautista veered out of his lane.
The cars collided nearly head-on, resulting in the Pacifica bursting into flames, and the 4Runner rolling and ejecting Bautista.
Bautista was transported to Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center, where he was declared deceased. It does not appear that he was wearing his seatbelt and was ejected. He was the only occupant of his vehicle.
After the flames that consumed the Pacifica were extinguished, deputies located three deceased people inside – a driver and two passengers. The driver has been identified as 23-year-old Jim Alan Bass, Jr., of Tampa. Joshua Bass, 24, and 41-year-old Casey Baynard were also killed. These identifications are based on interviews with family members.
Deputies say positive identification cannot be made at this time because of fire damage. Officials will need to compare dental records, which will likely occur after the holiday.
U.S. 98 was closed in both directions for several hours after the crash. Investigators say it is unknown at this time what caused the crash.