According to police, around 11:15 p.m. a passerby happened upon a traffic crash on U.S. Hwy 98 West, west of Adams Road in Fort Meade, with one vehicle fully engulfed in flames. The witness called 9-1-1.
Based on preliminary evidence at the scene, it appears a black 1999 Toyota Four Runner, being driven by 23-year-old Christian Bautista of Frostproof, for unknown reasons veered left from the westbound lane into the eastbound lane and into the path of an eastbound black 2005 Chrysler Pacifica. The cars collided nearly head-on, resulting in the Pacifica bursting into flames, and the Four Runner rolling and ejecting Bautista.
Bautista was transported to Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center, where he was declared deceased. It does not appear that he was wearing his seatbelt, due to being ejected. He was the only occupant of his vehicle.
After the flames that consumed the Pacifica were extinguished, deputies located three deceased people inside – a driver and two passengers. The driver has been identified as 23-year-old Jim Alan Bass, Jr., of Tampa.
Tentative identification has been made for the two adult passengers in the vehicle, however, due to the extent of the fire damage, positive identification will have to be made through dental records and/or DNA. Once that happens, I will send out another release. Polk Fire Rescue and the State Fire Marshal are assisting in this investigation.
U.S. 98 was closed in both directions for several hours after the crash. Due to all parties involved being deceased, no charges are pending. It is unknown at this time what caused the crash. The investigation is ongoing.