A Middle Keys woman took to Facebook Saturday afternoon, distraught after finding a truck had crashed into a tree and a dead man was inside at 98th Street, oceanside, in Marathon.
She called 911. She said no one answered, which Monroe County officials warned would happen in the wake of a mandatory evacuation order it issued in anticipation of Hurricane Irma. People were warned repeatedly to leave ahead of the dangerous storm. If they didn’t, officials said, they were largely on their own.
The woman posted that the man was “definitely deceased,” along with a photo of the red truck he was driving, wrapped around a tree. She said the man looked to be in his mid-80s.
Around 5 p.m., Monroe County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Deputy Becky Herrin said the man’s truck was found by some first responders patrolling in between powerful storm bands.
“They reported finding the crash scene to the Sheriff’s Office,” Herrin said. “Although Sheriff Rick Ramsay has pulled regular patrols because he does not want to endanger his employees, he evaluated the conditions outside and decided he would lead a team himself to recover the body.”
The man’s name is being withheld until his family is notified.
“I just felt we needed to try. We did not want to leave this man’s body out there, and I saw a lull in the storm that would allow us to go out there and get it safely,” Ramsay said.
Sheriff’s Office deputies were able to find a tow truck, which quickly removed the truck and body for safe keeping, Herrin said. The Florida Highway Patrol will investigate the case when it is safe to do so. It is unknown at this time if the crash was weather related or if there were other factors.
Herrin said under normal conditions, a photo of the truck would not have been released until next of kin had been notified. But photos of the truck had already been distributed on social media, so she opted to release the information. The man’s name is still being withheld.
The National Weather Service stated Irma is expected to strengthen to a Category 4 storm before reaching the Lower Keys at daybreak Sunday. But storm force winds were felt the entire day before, with conditions deteriorating steadily as the hours passed.