MIAMI — A Florida sheriff’s deputy was sleeping Thursday afternoon when his 11-year-old daughter called and asked him to pick her up at her school bus stop. Seconds later, his daughter screamed into the phone. “Dad, help me, help me!”
Polk County Sheriff’s Deputy Jonathan “JJ” Quintana told reporters at a news conference Friday that he assumed the worst as he jumped out of bed and ran barefoot to the bus stop. He found his daughter safe, but immediately saw the carnage left when a suspected drunken driver hit five of her fellow Dundee Ridge Middle Academy students as they walked home from the stop. One student later died of his injuries.
Quintana, 30, ran back home for his patrol car, yelled for his wife to toss him his keys and some shoes and drove back to the scene to assist the injured children. By then, two nurses had stopped to help the injured students.
The deputy — still limping and visibly shaken Friday — said a witness at the scene pointed out the car that had allegedly just crashed into the children.
Quintana saw the black vehicle had hit another car about 4,000 feet down the road. The driver then stumbled out of the vehicle. A woman who was four months pregnant was injured in that crash, according to authorities. They didn’t release her name.
Quintana arrested John Camfield, 48, of nearby Davenport, a former law enforcement officer who worked for more than 10 different agencies in Mississippi – including Yalobusha County Sheriff’s Office, Tunica County Sheriff’s Office and the Oxford Police Department – before moving to Florida in 2012.
Officials said Jahiem Robertson, 13, died of his injuries Friday morning in an Orlando hospital. Another child, John Mena, also 13, remains in intensive care with orbital fractures. Three other children — Jonte Robinson, 15; Jasmine Robertson, 14; and Rylan Pryce, 12 — suffered minor injuries. It was unclear whether they were related.
Speaking at the press conference Friday, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Camfield refused to take a breath test after his arrest and was “critiquing” the deputies who were processing his case. “He was critiquing the steps they were taking and complimenting them,” Judd told reporters on Friday. “He said, ‘You guys know what you are doing around here.’ ”
In fact, Judd added, Camfield was being somewhat lighthearted until a lieutenant advised him that two of the children he hit were in critical condition.
“He said, if that’s the case, put me under the jail,” Judd said.
At that point, he agreed to take a breath test and a blood draw.
“Seven hours after the crash, he still read a .14,” nearly twice Florida legal limit.
Judd said the bus had driven away just before the crash. He added that the students were not in the road when the car hit them.
“They weren’t misbehaving in any way. They were just being middle school children on their way home,” Judd said. “This drunk man in a car drove off the road and ran through those children, scattering them like a bowling ball through bowling pins.”
Judd said a sheriff in Mississippi who Camfield once worked for described him as “one of the very best detectives we’ve ever had, but he had a problem — alcohol, the bottle.”
Camfield made a first appearance in court Friday afternoon. He faces 11 charges, including DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide. He was being held on $600,000 bail. A lawyer isn’t listed on jail records. Beverly Kraft, a spokeswoman for the state court system in Mississippi, said there is no record that Camfield has ever been convicted of a felony in that state.
Polk County is between Orlando and Tampa in central Florida.