Wrong-way driver misses Hernando deputy, kills woman, 23

Laura Billingsley

HERNANDO COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A Hernando County Sheriff’s Office deputy wasn’t able to stop a wrong-way driver early Tuesday morning.

According to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office, the deputy was on routine patrol around 1 a.m. He was driving east on Cortez Boulevard/SR-50, which is a 2-lane road in the Ridge Manor area, when a 2011 Dodge Charger came toward him in his lane, going the wrong way.

The deputy, and the driver of a pick-up truck, swerved to avoid the wrong-way driver who was identified as Tony Warthen, 37, of Brooksville.

The deputy attempted to turn around and radio for assistance to another deputy who was on patrol near Interstate-75, however less than one minute later, the wrong-way driver hit another car, head-on. That car, a 2013 KIA Optima, was driven by Laura Billingsley, 23, of Webster.

Both drivers died at the scene.

Sarah Huff, 24, was driving west on State Road 50 when she said she saw a deputy behind her, chasing another car.

As the other car passed her, it ran head on into a car on the east bound side of the road.

“I witnessed him basically get out of the west bound lane and head into the east bound lane and hit that car head on,” said Huff.

The collision was so violent, parts of the cars shattered and hit her car in several places.

“It was so fast and I was scared for myself too, because I was, honestly, probably within feet of being involved in that accident as well. I knew they had hit pretty bad and I was just praying they were okay,” said Huff.

She later learned both drivers died at the scene, the vision of the crash was still fresh in her mind hours later.

“In the back of my car, it looked like an action movie. I had my dog in the back seat and he was barking and yelling. It was traumatizing, it was awful,” said Huff.

The deputy involved in the initial encounter with the wrong-way driver was not injured.

The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating the accident, which closed Cortez Boulevard between McKethan Road and Westwood Drive.


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