St. Petersburg, FL – A veteran Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) trooper heroically put herself in harm’s way to defend thousands of runners from a reckless drunk driver barreling across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on Sunday (video below).
The incident began at approximately 8:45 on March 6 as approximately 7,000 runners and numerous staff members were taking part in the Armed Forces Skyway 10K Race, the Herald-Tribune reported.
Investigators said 52-year-old Kristen Kay Watts was blazing down northbound Interstate 275 in a 2011 BMW 335i at an “excessive rate of speed,” ignored instructions to stop or to detour, and plowed through cones and around barricades heading towards the bridge.
Watts allegedly drove past multiple law enforcement officers, to include two Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) officers who were positioned outside the Skyway toll plaza, the Herald Tribune reported.
Two FHP troopers in separate vehicles were situated near the south Skyway rest area and began heading southbound in the northbound lanes in an effort “to intercept the vehicle and protect the thousands afoot on the Skyway Bridge,” according to the FHP.
Watts managed to navigate around the first patrol car and continued speeding down Interstate 275, the Herald Tribune reported.
Moments later, FHP Trooper Toni Schuck, a 47-year-old, 26-year veteran of the department, used her patrol SUV to stop Watts from reaching the runners.
Dashcam footage from Trooper Schuck’s patrol vehicle showed Watts’ car flying towards her seconds before Watts crashed “nearly head-on” into the SUV, the FHP said.
The front end of Trooper Schuck’s patrol vehicle was decimated in the high-speed collision.
The veteran trooper suffered serious injuries in the crash and was transported to a local hospital for treatment, the Herald-Tribune reported.
She has since been released and is recovering at home, according to the FHP.
The agency praised Trooper Schuck for placing “herself in harm’s way to protect others,” and described her as being “the last line of defense” during the potentially deadly incident, according to the Herald Tribune.
“Thank you for your bravery and self-sacrifice, Trooper Schuck,” the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles said in a Facebook post on Monday. “We wish you a speedy recovery.”
FHP Sergeant Steve Gaskins said he has known Trooper Schuck and the other trooper who tried to stop Watts for at least 15 years, WTSP reported.
“Both are high-caliber and high-quality members dedicated to the FHP and serving the public,” Sgt. Gaskins said.
He also praised the FFWCC officers and several other FHP troopers who answered his call for help in stopping Watts, WTSP reported.
“Every one of them responded immediately and without hesitation. While the crash was severe, I know the injured Trooper who is currently receiving medical care as I author this email, is absolutely relieved to have been available to ensure the safety of hundreds of innocent persons,” Sgt. Gaskins told the news outlet.
Watts was arrested on a slew of charges, including two counts of DUI with property damage, driving under the influence with serious injury, and two counts of reckless driving involving injury and property damage, the Herald-Tribune reported.
She was transported to Bayfront Health in St. Petersburg for treatment, according to WTSP.
Watts has since been booked into the Manatee County Jail on $52,000 bail, according to the Bradenton Herald.
Sgt. Gaskins said investigators do not believe Watts was planning an intentional attack on the runners, WTSP reported.
“The driver was intoxicated,” he wrote. “There is no indication at this time that her actions were directed at anything specific.”
The investigation into the incident remains ongoing.
Skyway 10K organizers praised Trooper Schuck and all area law enforcement for the heroic actions they took to prevent tragedy that day.
“On behalf of the Skyway 10K, we are beyond thankful for our law enforcement partners and the trooper who risked her life to keep our race participants safe,” the group said in a Facebook post on Monday.
“We are extremely grateful for the Florida Highway Patrol and all of our federal, state and local law enforcement partner agencies, not only for providing layers of security for this event, but the sacrifices they make every day,” the post read.
Watch the incident unfold in the video below:
Trooper Toni Schuck is no doubt a hero. She used her FHP vehicle to stop Kristen Watts of Sarasota. Trooper say Watts was driving impaired and blew through every barricade put up for the Skyway 10k. Thank you Trooper Schuck for your bravery. @fox13news pic.twitter.com/ZU7RRsRdqP
— Kim Kuizon FOX 13 (@kkuizon) March 7, 2022