VENICE — One man was killed and his passenger critically injured late Monday when a wrong-way driver on Interstate 75 struck their vehicle head on near Venice.
Authorities remained on the scene of the collision Tuesday as they continue to investigate what happened.
According to a news release from Florida Highway Patrol, a 37-year-old Punta Gorda woman was driving a Hyundai Santa Fe southbound in northbound lanes of I-75 at about 10:45 p.m. Monday, just north of the Jacaranda exit at Mile Marker 194.
A 21-year-old man from Sun City was driving a Nissan Altima north in the northbound lanes at the same time.
The news release states the Santa Fe “continued to travel southbound within the northbound lanes, and struck the front of (the Nissan) with the front of (the Hyundai).”
The 21-year-old man was pronounced dead at the scene by Sarasota County EMS; his passenger, a woman, was not yet identified by authorities. She is in critical condition and taken to an Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Both of them were wearing seat belts, the news release notes.
FHP Trooper Kenny Watson said they have contacted the next of kin of the driver who was killed in an effort to help identify the girl in the car.
He said she’s been identified as “young” — but it is unclear what her age is. “Her growth plates haven’t developed yet,” he said, indicating she could be 15 or 16.
As of Tuesday evening, he said, there had been no area reports of a missing teenager or woman.
According to authorities, the wrong-way driver suffered serious injuries.
The interstate opened Tuesday morning after being closed for several hours overnight. The Florida Highway Patrol Homicide Division is on investigating.
Florida Highway Patrol did not identify the other two drivers in their news release. The FHP crash reports can take several weeks or months for complete details to be released.
Watson said there were no signs of alcohol or impairment at the scene, but noted the investigation is still in its early stages.
“A call came into the (Sarasota County) Sheriff’s Office three minutes before the crash about a wrong-way driver,” Watson said.
It was unclear where the driver would have started going the wrong way — if from the Laurel Avenue exit, Clark Road 11 miles north or somewhere else.
Both the passenger in the second car and the driver of the first are at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
“The driver has not been able to make a statement yet based on injuries,” Watson said.
The driver is — at very least — facing a citation for driving the wrong one on I-75.
“Getting on the interstate the wrong way, you have to try. Those intersections are made to make such a thing difficult to do,” Watson said.