PALATKA, Fla. - The Florida Highway Patrol is trying to figure out what led to a car crashing into the St. Johns River in Palatka on Wednesday night, killing the 80-year-old driver inside.
According to FHP, a white Ford Escort was traveling southbound on Browns Landing Road but failed to stop at the dead end of the roadway and drove off the Browns Landing Boat Ramp and into the St. Johns River around 10:40 p.m.
The driver, Francis Edward Sheehan, attempted to get out through the driver's door window but was last seen sinking with the vehicle, according to the FHP report.
Anita Craig, 55, was in the passenger's seat and was able to get out through the front passenger window and swim to safety without injury, according to FHP.
Sheehan's body was recovered by the Putnam County Sheriff's Office dive team, a few yards in front of the vehicle, at about 1:30 a.m.
Sheehan had a lengthy driving record and was previously charged with DUI in Putnam County. FHP is still trying to figure out what caused Sheehan to drive into the St. Johns River.
"We're looking at all aspects," said FHP spokesman Dylan Bryan. "The possibility of alcohol being involved. And the fact that it is an elderly driver."
Sheehan's Putnam County driving record shows he was convicted of a DUI in November of 2008. His license was revoked in 2009 because that DUI was his third offense in 10 years. But the Putnam County Clerk of Courts said those convictions didn't happen in their county.
He was arrested on a felony habitual traffic offender charge in 2011 after three separate incidents in 2009 when he was caught driving with a suspended license.
In March of 2011, Sheehan was charged again with driving with a suspended license. He was then placed on probation for more than a year.
Ashley Peacock and her boyfriend were shrimping on a dock nearby when they saw the car coming down the road toward the boat ramp.
"We saw the car going into the water. It kind of came halfway down the ramp and then floored it into the water," Peacock said. "When they got to the water, I went to my phone and dialed 911. The lady and the man both tried to climb out of the car. She made it out. My boyfriend and I got her out to the dock, but by the time we turned around, the man was underwater. We couldn't see him anymore."
People living near the ramp told News4Jax it needs to be better marked.
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