Sheriff: Man arrested after hit-and-run DUI crash that killed 5-year-old girl

Ernesto Lopez Morales
Ernesto Lopez Morales(Polk County Sheriff)
Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 10:30 AM EDT
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POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WWSB) - A 32-year-old man has been arrested following a hit-and-run crash that killed a 5-year-old.

The crash occurred on Oct. 23. According to officials, Ernesto Lopez Morales was driving a 2005 black Chevrolet Suburban west on S.R. 60 in Mulberry at a high rate of speed with no headlights. According to a press release, Morales drove his vehicle into the back of a 2016 gray Hyundai Elantra driven by a Plant City woman. The Elantra was pushed more than 600 feet and both vehicles came to a stop in the eastbound lane facing west near the intersection of Espo Drive.

When paramedics arrived on scene, they found a 5-year-old girl deceased. The driver of the Elantra was transported to a local hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.

Paramedics and other witnesses saw Morales run away from the crash scene before deputies arrived, leaving his Suburban at the scene.

Deputies tracked down Morales and say he admitted to drinking six 32-ounce beers and was heading to go buy more. He admitted to not turning on his headlights and fleeing from the crash location. He also told deputies he left the scene of the crash because he doesn’t have insurance or a driver’s license.

A search of Morales’ driving history revealed that he does not a valid Florida Driver’s license and has never been issued a driver’s license in Florida or any other state. Sheriff Grady Judd confirmed that Morales was in the country illegally.

Deputies obtained a warrant for a blood test, which showed Morales had a blood alcohol level of .108 grams of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. The legal threshold for DUI is 0.08 grams of alcohol per 100 ml of blood.

Morales was arrested for Leaving the Scene of a Crash Involving a Death, DUI Manslaughter, Driving with No Driver’ License Causing Death, Leaving the Scene of a Crash Involving Injury, DUI Property Damage.

Morales was transported to the Polk County Jail and has a $22,500 bond. Due to Morales residing in the United States illegally, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement initiated a hold on him.

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