Created on Thursday, 10 April 2014 Written by MIKE SCHNEIDER, Associated Press SUZETTE LABOY, Associated Press
WINTER PARK, Fla. (AP) — A car smashed into an Orlando-area day care Wednesday, killing a girl and injuring 14 others, at least a dozen of them children, and authorities were searching for the driver of an SUV who they say started the crash, officials said.
A Florida state trooper, center, escorts a group of parents to a day care center to pick up their children after a vehicle crashed into the center, Wednesday, April 9, 2014, in Winter Park, Fla. At least 15 people were injured, including children. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
A Toyota Solara convertible went out of control after it was struck by a Dodge Durango, jumped a curb and smashed into the day care, breaking through the wall and into the building, said Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Wanda Diaz. The convertible driver was not hurt.
The Durango left the scene but was located almost two hours later after it had been abandoned at a home. The highway patrol said it is looking for 26-year-old Robert Corchado, who has been arrested eight times since 2000, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records. Troopers said he was the driver of the Durango, but wouldn't say how they established that. Troopers said Corchado may be trying to leave the area, and troopers and deputies headed to Orlando International Airport to look for him.
Diaz said a girl died at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, but she didn't have any more information on her. One person at the hospital was in critical condition and five others were in serious condition, said spokeswoman Katie Dagenais.
In all, 13 people were hospitalized and two others were treated at the scene, said John Mulhall, a spokesman for the Orange County Fire Rescue.
Several of the injured at the KinderCare building in Winter Park were reported to be in "very, very serious condition," Diaz said.
A man answered the phone for a number listed to Corchado and hung up when he was asked, "May I speak to Robert Corchado."
"Please keep a lookout and let us know if you see anything," Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said.
Corchado's most recent arrest was on a misdemeanor charge of leaving the scene of a crash involving damage, a felony charge of selling narcotics and felony marijuana possession last December. He was out on more than $10,000 bond and had pleaded not guilty to the charges. His defense attorney in that case, Jack Kaleita, didn't return a phone call or email after business hours.
Department of Corrections records show he has served prison time for trafficking cocaine and extortion.
Jacobs called the crash an "absolute tragedy and disaster."
Gov. Rick Scott released a statement saying, "As a grandfather of three young children, I can't imagine losing such a precious life at such a young age. Today's hit-and-run was an act of cowardice, and members of the Florida Highway Patrol are working closely with local law enforcement to bring those who caused this crash to justice."
Local television footage showed small children and infants in cribs taken outside on the day care's playground and several of the injured were carried out on stretchers.
The highway patrol reported that the injured were taken to five different hospitals.
Late Wednesday afternoon parents could be seen waiting to pick up their children, and then clutching them in their arms as they were escorted to their vehicles by authorities.
The day care's website says the center provides childcare and learning opportunities for children ages 6 weeks to 12 years old and has been in the community for over 25 years.