Crashes at Hooks Street and U.S. 27 becoming more common

By Dave D'Marko, Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, September 25, 2014, 5:44 PM EDT

The sight was shocking Wednesday in Lake County, even for a veteran tow truck driver.

Garrett Paquette had to work to get a pool supply van back on the ground after police said it appeared a dump truck driver going too fast on U.S. 27 plowed into the back of vehicles stopped at the Hooks Street stoplight.

 “I’ve never been on one like this in 30 years, so it’s a real rarity,” Paquette said.

But he said wrecks at the intersection aren’t rare. In the past two months, the mother of actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was hit in a crash by an out-of-control driver near the intersection.

So was 47-year-old Yariria Gonzalez of Clermont.

Clermont Police said since November 2012 there have been 80 crashes at the intersection. How that compares to other busy intersections in the city wasn’t immediately available.

But the crash data troubles Councilman Rick Van Wagner, who is also a pastor at a church near the intersection. One of his employees on her way to work was involved in Wednesday’s crash.

“I don’t have the answers yet, but I’m hopeful some of the folks who do this for a living like the transportation department and our police department are going to look very closely at this, because it’s of concern,” Van Wagner said.

Drivers chalk it up to added commercialization south of the interchange, where the City of Clermont also recently opened a new arts and rec center and will soon move its police department.

“I think the town and this area is just building up. That’s what it’s going to be like,” Brian Herndon said.

“Whether they are coming off of highway 50 or travelling north or south on U.S. 27, it’s a very busy intersection due to the nature of the area,” Captain Michael McMaster said.

For now police are urging drivers to use caution while they investigate all the recent accidents.

“Obviously we will review those accidents as well as any other accidents at the general intersection to look for a common denominator,” Captain McMaster said.

In Wednesday's crash all vehicles were southbound on U.S. 27. The driver in the pool van that ended up on its end, Tommie Peebles, was not seriously injured.

We also contacted The Florida Department of Transportation regarding traffic patterns and visibility, which changed when the new U.S. 27 bridge was completed last year. Spokesperson Jessica Keane said they don’t do special after project reviews, but monitor the roadways the same as they do all other state roads.

"If we find something of concern through this systematic approach, then we investigate more closely. We also investigate safety concerns reported to us from law enforcement, local governments and the public," Keane said.