ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A man driving the wrong way on the Howard Frankland Bridge early Friday was killed in a head-on crash that injured another man and thwarted morning rush hour traffic across two counties.
According to Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Steve Gaskins, the three-vehicle crash happened at 5:45 a.m. in the northbound lanes of the bridge, closing the northbound lanes of the bridge for about three hours.
Gaskins identified the driver as 46-year old Renard Antonio McGriff, who was driving a 4-door Chrysler sedan the wrong way and collided head-on with a Ford van.
McGriff, of Pinellas Park, died at the scene. The driver he hit has been identified as 44-year-old Mark Reale, who was taken to an area hospital and remains in critical condition.
Reason for move unclear
Investigators said McGriff actually drove in the correct direction onto I-275 before making a U-turn and driving at least two miles southbound in the northbound lanes before the crash with Reale.
McGriff's girlfriend, Calida Watkins, said she last saw him around 11:30 p.m. the night before the crash.
She said she learned of McGriff's death through McGriff's cousin, who called her at work. She added didn't know what might have led him to make such a dangerous driving move.
"He was a fun-loving guy who got along with everybody," she said.
Alcohol had a role?
A third vehicle also was caught in the crash. That driver, a 40-year-old man from Georgia, was not injured.
"Our investigating is early on at this point," Gaskins said. "Official results will be coming in the weeks to come, but right now we believe alcohol played a role in the crash."
Traffic was turned around on St. Petersburg roadways leading to the bridge for hours, leading to additional delays on I-275 into St. Pete and on the Gandy Bridge.
Meanwhile, authorities said it could take as long as 60 days to get a toxicology report from the crash.
According to state records, McGriff has a lengthy criminal history which includes driving under the influence and cocaine possession.