TAMPA — Daniel Morris was at a party early Sunday, neighbors said, when he slipped behind the wheel of a friend's sport utility vehicle and took off on a fatal, wrong-way trip down Interstate 275.
The drive ended in a fiery head-on collision that killed 28-year-old Morris and four fraternity brothers from the University of South Florida who were riding in the car he hit.
Four days later, what was going through Morris' mind remains a puzzle to investigators. They're still trying to piece together the route he traveled — just 3 Ĺ miles west and north from the party if he drove direct, but some witnesses reported seeing him headed south in the northbound lanes another four miles north of there.
The investigation did progress far enough for the Florida Highway Patrol to identify Morris on Tuesday as the driver who caused the crash.
“He didn't really have any problems with anybody,” said Andrew Etzler, 29, of Wimauma, who grew up with Morris. “I don't even know what to think.”
As the two cars collided about 2 a.m. Sunday, the party was still going near Sligh Avenue and Rowlett Park Drive in a single-family home at 2005 E. Broad Street.
Morris had just moved in about three weeks earlier, to live with his friend Scott Enfinger, along with a woman and three children, neighbors said. The two men were hosting the party, with a crowd listening to music and talking until around 3 a.m.
Tampa police said a call came to 911 about 15 minutes after the crash that someone had made off with an SUV from that address. The Florida Highway Patrol said it was Morris who took Enfinger's 2001 Ford Expedition, later sending it hurtling into a 2010 Hyundai Sonata carrying Jobin Joy Kuriakose, 21, of Orlando, Ankeet Harshad Patel, 22, of Melbourne, Imtiyaz Ilias, 20, of Fort Myers, and Dammie Yesudhas, 21, of Melbourne.
“It could have happened to anybody,” said Deaundra Butler, who lives on Broad Street and knows Enfinger. “I'm surprised he made it that far.”
Butler said he was home Saturday night and saw a well-behaved group of partiers. Enfinger has lived in the home about a year and this was the first party neighbors remembered.
The home is owned by the father of the woman living there, Thomas Baker, who lives next door to the home and declined to be interviewed on Tuesday night.
Morris was born in Michigan and grew up in the Tampa area, attending East Bay High School in Gibsonton. He moved to the Detroit suburb of St. Clair Shores, Mich., then back to Tampa.
Friend Andrew Etzler said Morris had worked at Port Manatee several years before leaving for Michigan, possibly for “a new start.” But he returned recently and was scheduled to go back to work at Port Manatee on Monday.
“I just saw him Friday. He did a bunch of work on my car, and on my sister's truck. He was here helping us out with different mechanical things,” Etzler said.
Morris loved working with his hands, Etzler said, from fixing cars to woodworking.
“I just know he was a real hard-working young man, so nice to everybody, more than willing to help anybody out, no matter what it was.”
In 2007, Morris married Tanya Marie Dunn in Hillsborough County, according to a marriage license. Morris lived in Plant City at the time, records show. The two have since separated, according to Etzler.
In 2010, Morris' Florida driver's license was suspended because he failed to pay a traffic citation, according to state records.
Neighbors in his new home along Broad Street weren't familiar with Morris.
Alan Campbell said he sees Enfinger, 27, and his family from time to time, sometimes with packages and picnic baskets.
“It always seemed like they were out doing something,” Campbell said.
There was no one at Enfinger's home Tuesday night.
Campbell, who has lived in the same house on Broad Street since age 5, and others described the neighborhood as quiet with neighbors who have lived there a long time.
Ethel Davis, who has lived on Broad Street 37 years, said she was home Saturday night and didn't hear her neighbor's party.
She saw the news trucks on her street Tuesday night and didn't make the connection that the vehicle in the Sunday morning crash had started its journey from Broad Street. She learned her neighbor was involved in the crash from watching the news.
“It's a state of disbelief that something could have originated that close to my house and I wasn't aware of it,” Davis said. “That's the shock of the whole situation.”
All four of the young men killed in the Hyundai were members of USF's Sigma Beta Rho fraternity.
A memorial service for the them is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Thursday at the Martin Luther King Plaza area outside the Marshall Student Center on the USF campus.