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Man charged with DUI manslaughter after 5-year-old girl dies in hit-and-run

The sheriff's office says the man admitted to drinking six 32-ounce beers before driving at a high speed with no headlights on.
Credit: Polk County Sheriff's Office

MULBERRY, Fla. — Polk County deputies arrested a man they say caused a hit-and-run crash that left a 5-year-old girl dead Saturday night.

Ernesto Lopez Morales, 32, was driving west on State Road 60 in Mulberry just before 8:30 p.m. at a high speed with no headlights on, according to the sheriff's office.

Deputies say Morales drove into the back of a woman's car, pushing it more than 600 feet until both cars came to a stop near the intersection of Espo Drive.

When paramedics arrived on scene, they reportedly found a 5-year-old girl dead. The driver was taken to a local hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.

Credit: Polk County Sheriff's Office

According to the sheriff's office, paramedics and other witnesses saw Morales run away from the crash scene, leaving his car behind before deputies arrived.

Detectives say they searched the area and found Morales at a house where he was living. Morales admitted to drinking six 32-ounce beers and then leaving to go buy more, according to the report. The sheriff's office says he also admitted to not turning on his headlights and leaving the scene of the crash because he doesn't have insurance or a driver's license.

The sheriff's office adds that Morales is from Guatemala and was living in the U.S. illegally.

“Morales has no regard for the law or human life, and we are going to do everything possible to hold him accountable. If he had been in Guatemala and not in the United States illegally, this beautiful little girl would still be alive today," Sheriff Grady Judd said.

Morales faces multiple felony charges including DUI manslaughter and leaving the scene of a crash involving a death.

He was transported to the Polk County Jail with a $22,500 bond, but because of his immigration status, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has initiated a hold on him. 

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