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A wrong-way collision led to the death of a 29-year-old Florida woman on Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The crash is still under investigation, but there are reports that the deceased woman was driving in the wrong direction for nearly two miles before the accident.
Florida Highway Patrol is currently evaluating video footage that reportedly shows Shontel Nicole Chase driving on the wrong side of Interstate 275 and passing by a toll plaza in route to St. Petersburg. The woman’s car slammed into a pick-up truck around 3:40 AM. Jon Allen Mitchell was driving the truck and attempted to swerve right to avoid hitting Chase, but the vehicles collided head-on. Emergency responders pronounced Chase dead on the scene. Mitchell is in critical condition.
When Debra Chase first received news of her daughter’s death, she was completely inconsolable. Her fiancé, Clay Lavoie, told reporters that his future step-daughter had been facing a bright future after going through a difficult season of financial problems. “She had finally gotten on her own two feet,” Lavoie said. “She had gone through some hard times in the past. She just got her car paid off.”
Chase was working at Tim’s Barber Shop as a hairstylist before her death. Her family said she had planned to go out with a co-worker that night, but they were unsure why she would have been in Manatee County. Lavoie speculated that she may have gotten confused when she pulled onto the interstate from a rest stop. “It’s confusing down there even during the day.”
Prior to the fatal accident, Chase had racked up six driving citations. In early 2010, she was charged with driving under the influence and completed substance abuse counseling. Officials are still investigating what happened in the hours leading up to the crash and they have not said whether alcohol was involved.
The local community is grieving the loss of Chase, particularly those she knew from her time at Gulf High School and Tampa’s Paul Mitchell School. She had a very close relationship with her mother and she loved to spoil her dog named Wally. In just four months of working in the barber shop, she had made many friends. Manager Melinda Schneider said, “We lost a family member today.”
Tampa personal injury attorney Marc Yonker expressed his condolences to Chase’s family. “This is a tragic accident for our community and we are deeply sorry for the friends and family who obviously cared deeply for Shontel Chase.” As an attorney who frequently deals with the aftermath of major collisions, Yonker knows the heartache of auto accidents well. “There’s no way to prepare yourself for that level of grief. Each time I sit with a new family that has suffered a wrongful death due to an auto collision, it’s a fresh reminder that every day is a gift that we should not take for granted.”
Officials hope to retrace Chase’s last few hours to determine what caused her to drive on the wrong side of the interstate. Hopefully new information will at least offer some kind of explanation for the family who is left with many unanswered questions.