POINCIANA (FOX 13) - Sheriff Grady Judd says the drunk driver who hit five teens Thursday afternoon -- killing one -- is a retired law enforcement officer who, hours after the crash, was still nearly twice the legal limit for driving.
“He read a 0.14 [BAC] seven hours after the crash. He was drunk. He was very drunk,” Judd told FOX 13 on Friday.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office says John Camfield clipped one of the teens along Allegheny Road near Athabasca in Poinciana after they had gotten off the school bus and were walking along the shoulder of the road, and then hit the others while driving away.
“He mowed them down, ran through them like a bowling ball through bowling pins.” Judd said. “It’s devastating in the greatest sense of the word.”
“I turn my head and I see two kids laying down and another boy yelling. He is going crazy," recalled Azaria Morton, who lives in the house closest to the crash scene. "It was like, what happened that quick?"
One of the victims was the 11-year-old daughter of an off-duty deputy. He ran outside barefoot after getting a frantic phone call from her and assumed the worst as he came upon the injured children.
“I’ve been doing this job for four years and I’ve seen a lot. I’ve been involved in a lot,” Deputy JJ Quintana recalled, fighting back tears. “Nothing compares to hearing your daughter ask for help and you can’t.”
Quintana said, as help arrived on the scene, he “switched from being a father to doing [his] job” and caught up with the suspect’s car, which had stopped after hitting a parked car at the end of the street. Camfield had gotten out and was stumbling around, deputies said, apparently unaware that he had struck several schoolchildren.
The victims were between the ages of 12 and 15 and all attend Dundee Ridge Middle Academy in Poinciana. Two of them -- Jahiem Robertson and Juan Mena, both 13 -- were injured so badly that they were flown to Arnold Palmer Children's Hospital in Orlando.
Jahiem passed away late this morning, the sheriff said.
"We are left deeply saddened and shaken following the tragic news that some of our students were hit yesterday while walking home,” Dundee Ridge Principal Stacy Gideons wrote Friday. “Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones during this painful time. The school community of Dundee Ridge Middle Academy is a very close-knit family. And just like a family, we support each other through good times and bad times. Please continue to pray for all of those hurting from this tragic situation."
Crisis counselors were on hand at the school today, and a makeshift memorial formed at the scene of the crash.
"I felt bad for them and I hope they get better and pray for them," classmate Natalie Cruz said as she laid flowers.
"It doesn't make sense," added Natalie's mom, Amanda Gallimore. "These kids had to suffer because of someone so negligent to drive drunk and just leave, not even care that he hit the kids."
Camfield, meanwhile, was arrested on several charges, including DUI and leaving the scene of a crash. He also faces a DUI manslaughter charge now that Jahiem Robertson has died and is being held on $600,000 bond.
Now living in Davenport, Camfield is a retired law enforcement officer who spent 19 years at five different agencies in Mississippi, Judd said. He later became public safety director of the old Cypress Gardens.
Sheriff Judd called him an “embarrassment” to law enforcement.
"This is a man who is an absolute, total drunk," the sheriff added. "You're looking at a guy who needs to be in prison for the rest of his life. Because if he's not in prison, the community around him is not safe."