Person of interest in fatal Turnpike hit-and-run nowhere to be found



ORLANDO, Fla. - There is still no sign of a person of interest in the case of a hit-and-run crash that killed two deaf people Monday.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers said 68-year-old Robert Bates' South Florida attorney contacted them Wednesday after Bates was named a person of interest in the death of 19-year-old Mariah King of Davenport and 24-year-old Vincent Mathews of Lakeland.

The deaf couple was changing a tire on the side of the northbound lanes of the Florida turnpike just after dark near Fort Pierce when a big rig veered off the main roadway and struck them Monday night.

The driver never stopped, authorities said.

Troopers said they have not yet met with Bates or seen the tractor-trailer believed to have been involved in the crash.

Investigators have spoken with representatives from Mercer Transport from Louisville, Ky., regarding the investigation and said they are cooperating.

Officials said the big rig does not have GPS tracking.

The tractor is described as a dark-colored 2006 Peterbuilt, with right front damage, an Illinois license tag of P769293 and a truck number of 13335 on the left and right front of the vehicle.

The trailer is a Benson flatbed with an Illinois license tag of T495080.

WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer said it's now up to troopers to put Bates behind the wheel.

"Once he has obtained an attorney he cannot be compelled to talk to law enforcement and quite frankly it's not going to be in his best interest to talk to law enforcement," Sheaffer said.

Troopers will look at invoices to see what he was picking up or dropping off, and inspect his logbook, which tracks the hours a trucker is on the road.

Officials are still working on a request for Bates' logbook.

Putting Bates at the scene of the crash could be hard, but the troopers and prosecutors know two families want justice.

King's mother was too devastated to talk, but gave a statement saying in part, "Yes, I am angry, and yes, I want justice, but most of all I miss the two people that I love with all my heart."

King's mother emailed WFTV and wrote that the couple was engaged to be married. She said the pair were a safe distance off the roadway, and that the family wants justice in the case.

Jeanne Glidden Prickett, president of the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, where Mathews and King formerly attended, released a statement on Tuesday.

"Our heartfelt condolences go to the families and friends of Vincent T. Mathews of Lakeland and Mariah A. King of Davenport," said Prickett. "This tragedy was clearly preventable and underscores the pressing need for increased safety measures within the commercial trucking industry."

The couple was involved with First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland.

Mathews was also a counselor at a camp for deaf kids.

If anyone has information about the tractor-trailer or incident they are urged to contact Cpl. Robert Ruiz from the Florida Highway Patrol at 772-467-3703 Ext 3126 or email at or contact their local Crime Stoppers.