A man who was critically injured Saturday in an Interstate 75 crash that killed a Florida Highway Patrol trooper and tow truck driver has died.
George R. Phillips, 55, of Ocala, died late Saturday night at Ocala Regional Medical Center from injuries sustained when a southbound pickup pulling a trailer traveled onto the east shoulder and struck the FHP vehicle, the trooper, the tow truck driver and Phillips as they stood on the shoulder of the road, according to FHP.
Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Chelsea Renee Richard, 30, and tow truck driver John Duggan were killed at the scene.
Authorities are investigating the Saturday afternoon crash, and additional information will be released in the coming weeks, according to FHP.
The sequence of events that led to the fatal collision began around 1:40 p.m. Saturday near Mile Marker 341 on I-75 south of Ocala. Richard arrived at the scene to investigate a crash involving a red pickup truck and a white Toyota and then called for a tow company.
According to Jaymi Reilly, Phillips’ sister, Phillips and his wife were at the scene after receiving a call from their daughter, who was in one of the vehicles involved in the crash.
Phillips stayed at the scene to wait as the tow truck driver loaded the car and told his wife and daughter to leave because it wasn’t safe to be on the side of the road.
About 20 minutes later, a seven-vehicle pileup occurred nearby.
Around the same time, a black pickup hauling a trailer left the roadway, struck the trooper’s vehicle and then hit Richard, Duggan and Phillips, who were standing on the grassy shoulder of southbound I-75 about nine miles south of State Road 200.
Duggan and Richard died at the scene, while Phillips was taken to Ocala Regional Medical Center in critical condition.
The families of Richard and Duggan could not be reached for comment Sunday, but Phillips’ family spoke about their loved one.
“He was a wonderful person,” said Phillips’ mother, Patti Hawkesworth, of Ocala. Phillips was born in Miami and worked as a general contractor before retiring to Ocala about seven years ago where he has worked as a realtor.
Phillips and wife, Andrea, have three children together: a son, 28, and two daughters, ages 26 and 17. Phillips and his wife would have been married 29 years on May 25.
According to his wife, Phillips was a man of faith and a member of Blessed Trinity Catholic Church who volunteered at Brother’s Keeper Soup Kitchen on weekends.
“He had a very big personality,” Andrea said. “Everybody loved him. George is one of those people who, once you met him, he was your friend.”
She described her husband as gregarious, charismatic and someone who liked sports, particularly fishing and golfing.
The eldest of five children, George Phillips was very protective of his siblings and was described as a leader, according to his brother, John Phillips, of Miami, who also owns a small farm in Ocala.
“He was a wonderful big brother. He would come to your aid in a second,” said John. “No matter what, he was there to help.”
Minutes after hearing the news of the accident, John said he drove to Ocala from Miami and was able to visit with his older brother before he died.
Richard was a nine-year veteran with FHP and had been with the Ocala district office for about a year. She is survived by her 4-year-old son, Clayton, her grandparents, parents and a brother.
Charges are pending the completion of the traffic homicide investigation, which could take several months, according to FHP.
On Saturday officials said alcohol was not suspected in the crash and no arrests had been made. The driver of the pickup truck that struck the victims was released from the scene after being interviewed by law enforcement.