[PHOTO CREDIT: Facebook / Michael Downs]
[Original Publish Date: 03/26/20]
EUSTIS, Florida — A local firefighter, who is the deputy chief of the volunteer Umatilla Fire Department, an engineer medic at Eustis Fire Department, and former local paramedic of the year, is under criminal investigation by the Florida Highway Patrol for a three-vehicle crash that killed a 23-year-old woman March 19.
Michael Downs, 30, who was off-duty from both fire departments, was traveling eastbound in a 2016 Dodge Ram on State Road 44 when he failed to stop and struck the back of a 2017 Nissan Sentra, “propelling” it into the back of a stopped dump truck. The Nissan, being driven by Catherine Eaglin, of DeLand was stopped on State Road 44, facing east, behind a 2020 dump truck being driven by Wiliam Gomes, 33, of Orlando shortly after 11:15 p.m. March 19, according to an FHP crash report.
The report documents the crash happened in a construction area with workers that had advance warning and states Downs was “inattentive,” and he “operated the vehicle in a careless or negligent manner.” FHP troopers believe Downs was impaired.
“FHP is awaiting test results from blood that was drawn after suspicion of impairment,” FHP Lt. Kim Montes told Lake Legal News. “[Downs] is under criminal investigation.”
Eaglin, who turned 23 just six days before the crash, was pronounced dead on the scene, and was wearing a seatbelt. Downs, of Eustis, was airlifted to Central Florida Regional Medical Center and he was not wearing a seatbelt. He has since been released from the hospital. Gomes was transported by Lake EMS to AdventHealth Waterman; he was wearing a seatbelt.
Downs is on administrative leave from the Umatilla Fire Department pending the outcome of the investigation, Umatilla City Clerk Karen Howard told LLN. Downs is on medical leave from Eustis Fire Department due to injuries from the crash, according to Eustis Fire Department’s Deputy Chief Scott Davis. At press time EFD had not been officially made aware of FHP’s investigation, Davis explained to LLN.
This is at least Downs’ third crash that was investigated by FHP in six years, Montes said. He was involved in a single-vehicle crash in 2014 on State Road 44 near the Whitehair Bridge in DeLand. In 2019, he was at-fault in a crash involving another vehicle on Interstate 4, Montes said.
The night of the March 14 crash, LLN found Downs’ Facebook page that has since been deactivated. His public profile photo showed him holding a Busch Light beer.
This is Downs’ second run-in with the law in less than three years. According to local media reports, he and two other men were accused of battering the boyfriend of one of the other men’s estranged wife in November 2017. Downs was charged with burglary with battery in that case, according to media reports. The charge was later dropped; and the arrest was apparently expunged.
Our Editor-in-Chief, Marilyn M. Aciego, began writing for Lake Legal News in 2010. Born and raised in Lake County, she is a graduate of Umatilla High School and Lake-Sumter State College. She started her journalism career at LSSC, where she was editor of both student publications, The Angler and The Odyssey. Her professional career began at the Daily Commercial in 2004 where she covered cops and courts the majority of her time there until she left in 2009. Currently, along with being Editor-in-Chief of Lake Legal News, she is the Florida bureau chief for an international media organization. She has made more than two dozen appearances on live national television, including Nancy Grace and the Greta Van Susteren show, along with her appearance on Evil Twins. Contact her with breaking news, tips, and feedback by sending an e-mail to 352Tips@gmail.com. You can also contact us on our Facebook page — and make sure you “Like” and “Follow us” there. [PHOTO CREDIT: Bonnie Whicher]