Florida Keys

Head-on crash kills at least one on U.S. 1 in the Keys

This is the aftermath of the fatal crash. U.S. northbound traffic was blocked.
This is the aftermath of the fatal crash. U.S. northbound traffic was blocked. Sheriff’s Office

A head-on crash in the Lower Keys early Friday morning left one person dead and eight injured.

Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Kathleen McKinney said three vehicles were involved in the crash around 9 a.m. at mile marker 16 on Sugarloaf Key. In addition to the fatality, eight people were injured.

Dead is Jairon Darwin Lunapaz, 43, of Honduras, who was driving a 2016 Ford Explorer.

Troopers said a 2006 Ford F150 pickup driven by Sugarloaf Key resident Thomas Fletcher, 56, was northbound on U.S.1 and had pulled out to pass. A 2016 International box truck driven by 57-year-old Gonzalo Santacruz of Miami traveling southbound was followed by Lunapaz in the Explorer.

Santacruz swerved from Fletcher’s F150 as it approached head-on. The F150 and box truck were involved in a side-swipe collision. The Ford Explorer, directly behind the box truck, then collided with the Ford F150 head-on.

Lunapaz was pronounced dead at the scene, according to law enforcement. Three of Lunapaz’s passengers, Maria Portillo, Michael Portillo and Ronaldo Gutierrez, were airlifted to Kendall Regional Medical Center in Miami along with Fletcher. Lunapaz’s passengers live in West Virginia. Two other passengers, Jason Portillo and Esmeralda Gutierrez, were taken to Lower Keys Medical Center.

Frank Quintero, a passenger in the International, was also taken to Lower Keys Medical Center. Medical information on Santacruz was not available at press time.

U.S. 1 was blocked as emergency medical services, the Florida Highway Patrol and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office were sorting things out and tending to victims.

There have now been at least 27 traffic fatalities in the Keys handled by the FHP this year. All of 2015, there were 18. The 27 does not include eight traffic deaths in Key West handled by city police.

Motorcycle accident

McKinney said a motorcyclist and his 17-year-old female passenger were injured Friday morning.

Donald Timbers, 51, of Gilford, Ontario, was driving south on U.S. 1 in Marathon at 11:30 a.m. when he lost control of his 2012 Harley Davidson near mile marker 47.3 and laid the bike on its side.

Timbers’ passenger, Mackenzie Kneeshaw, also of Gilford, was flown to Ryder after hitting her head on the pavement, the FHP said. Timbers sustained minor injuries. Neither were wearing helmets, McKinney said, and the accident was not alcohol-related.

Timbers was cited for careless driving. The road was cleared shortly after 1:30 p.m. and traffic was backed up for two hours due to EMS operations and traffic crash investigations.

Larry Kahn: 305-440-3218

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