Tragedies on tri-county roadways prove that drivers must think before getting behind the wheel

Villages High School graduate Dusty Ray Rhoads Jr., left, was killed early Friday morning in a three-vehicle crash in Ocala. The 18-year-old graduated from VHS in May.

It’s been a tragic time on tri-county roadways.

Early Friday morning, 18-year-old Dusty Ray Rhoads Jr. became the second 2019 Villages High School graduate to die in a vehicle crash. Rhoads was killed in a three-vehicle crash at the intersection of E State Road 40 and NE 25th Avenue in Ocala when his red Hyundai flipped and wrapped around a telephone pole. The passenger in a white Ford Fusion was ejected and needed immediate medical attention, while the driver of that vehicle and the driver of a Ford Mustang both were transported to area hospitals for treatment. The preliminary investigation revealed that the crash could have been the result of excessive speed in the intersection.

Joseph Machado

The other 2019 VHS graduate to die in a car crash was football standout Joseph Machado. The 18-year-old was killed in May just six days after graduation when the driver of the vehicle he was riding in, 18-year-old Phillip Leslie, lost control of his 1998 Toyota Camry while traveling east on County Road 48 and slammed into a tree. Leslie, of Yalaha, also died in the crash, which occurred near the intersection of Rumford Road.

On Thursday, 71-year-old Emilio Nunez, nine-year-old Nevaeh Nunez and seven-year-old Katalaya Nunez died as a result of a crash at the intersection of County Road 484 and County Road 470. Emilio Nunez’s 2003 Suzuki Vitara was struck by a Ford F-350 pickup driven by 48-year-old Stephen Lynn, of Ocala. He was is accused of causing the crash when he ran a red light and is facing three counts of DUI manslaughter and a charge of driving while license suspended.

Stephen Lynn

Last Saturday, the driver of Mini Cooper was ticketed after a crash sent another motorist to Leesburg Regional Medical Center. That incident took place at about 12:30 p.m. when the Mini Cooper was attempting turn onto County Road 466A from Canal Street. The car pulled into the path of an oncoming Nissan Pathfinder, which then rolled over several times after the collision.

Also on Saturday, Nov. 2, a Summerfield man who was riding on the back of a motorcycle on County Road 42 was killed in a hit-and-run crash. The incident took place near SE 102nd Court Road when the motorcycle, a 1997 Honda VT600, was hit from behind by a Toyota Sequoia SUV or Tundra pickup, throwing the driver, 60-year-old Wendy Allyn Roberts, of The Villages, and her passenger to the ground. The passenger was then killed when he was run over by a second vehicle, believed to be a Toyota Corolla. Both of those vehicles fled the scene and are being sought by Florida Highway Patrol troopers.

On Oct. 29, the driver of an SUV accidentally hit the gas pedal instead of the brake and crashed through the front door of Lakeview Healthcare System at the Laurel Manor Professional Plaza. The driver and several patients needed medical treatment.

The driver of this Mini Cooper was ticketed as a result of a recent crash.

In mid-October, two boys were flown by helicopter to Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital in Orlando after they were struck by a vehicle on Rolling Acres Road while riding on an ATV. A man died as a result of a four-vehicle crash on U.S. Hwy. 441 that involved an accused drunk driver and also destroyed the Leesburg High School Band’s box truck. And recently, two people needed medical treatment after a Rail Crew Xpress transportation services van driven by 47-year-old Ding Zhiu, of Orlando, “did not observe the roundabout” and slammed into a wall in the Village of McClure.

Unfortunately, the list goes on and on. And while there are a multitude of reasons for crashes, most of them could be avoided if motorists used some common sense and realized that driving is a privilege that should be cherished and taken quite seriously.

This ATV was involved in a crash on Rolling Acres Road in mid-October that injured two boys.

Some of the many crashes we’ve all heard about involve drunk drivers or those impaired by alcohol. Some, no doubt, can be tied to texting and chatting. And the old adage, “Speed Kills,” never should be taken lightly.

Of course, we all know that driving in The Villages can be a trying experience. On some roadways in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown, drivers often feel like they’re risking their lives just to get from point A to point B. And as we all know, it’s only going to get worse as the snowbirds return.

An SUV crashed into the front door of this medical office at Laurel Manor Professional Plaza recently.

Going forward, we sincerely hope everyone who travels on the busy roadways in The Villages and the surrounding tri-county area will take a deep breath, remember their good friend common sense and drive defensively at all times. If you’ve had a drink, don’t get behind the wheel. Don’t tailgate or blow your stack when another driver does something stupid. Leave plenty of time to get to your destination. And please watch your speed and don’t drive like your hair is on fire.

Life will never be the same for the families of the people involved in the crashes mentioned above. Some have lost loved ones, which is something they surely will never get past. And others have been critically injured and face the prospect of replaying the crashes in their heads time and time again while they struggle to recuperate.

That said, please be safe out there. If we all do our part, maybe we can avoid some of the tragedy we’ve all seen this past week and move forward in a much safer environment – one where motorists think about their actions before getting behind the wheel.