Troopers: Blood alcohol of motorist in wrong-way crash almost twice legal limit

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — A 22-year-old Orlando man was critically injured early Friday after a drunken driver caused a wrong-way on State Road 417 in Orange County, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

Joel Padilla, 32, of Sanford, entered SR 417 through the Colonial Drive exit ramp shortly after 3 a.m., FHP Sgt. Kim Montes said.

Padilla was driving south in the northbound lanes when he crashed his Hummer head-on into a Nissan car driven by Shar-da Tabuteau near Curry Ford Road, FHP said.

Raw: Scene of multi-vehicle wrong-way crash

The force of the impact caused Tabuteau’s car to slam into a Chevrolet Camaro, driven by Mermann Sonthnax, 26, of Pompano Beach, Montes said.

Tabuteau was taken to Orlando Regional Medical Center in critical condition. Sonthnax had minor injuries, troopers said.

Investigators said Padilla, who had a blood alcohol level almost twice the legal limit, was uninjured in the crash. %

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Motorist Jose Varela said he watched Padilla’s hummer speed right past him.

“It's crazy,” Varela said. “It’s shocking. That could have been me.”

The Expressway Authority has installed dozens of wrong-way driving sensors that would warn drivers and alert troopers if a motorist were to drive against the flow of traffic.

Authorities said a wrong-way sensor detected it and sent out an alert. But the crash happened only minutes later. %

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So far, 24 sensors have been installed on CFX roads and they are functioning. Officials said 10 more will be installed by the end of the year.

Motorists on the road late at night can try to avoid wrong-way crashes by driving in the right-most lane, Montes said, because wrong-way drivers often drive in the fast lane thinking they’re in the slow lane.

“Some of those drivers actually do a U-turn in the road,” Montes said. “And that wouldn't be identified by the system, so we need drivers to pay attention, especially in the overnight hours.”

Padilla was arrested at the crash scene on a charge of driving under the influence. He also faces an open-carry firearms charge. He was being jailed in lieu of $5,100 bail.