Robert Bates: Person of interest identified in fatal crash that killed a Central Florida couple

FORT PIERCE, Fla. - The Florida Highway Patrol has identified a person of interest in the fatal hit-and-run crash that left two young people dead Monday evening on Florida's Turnpike near mile marker 166 in Fort Pierce.

Robert Bates, a 68-year-old resident of Sanford, Florida, was identified as a person of interest in the accident that killed 19-year-old Mariah A. King and 24-year-old Vincent T. Mathews as they attempted to change a tire on their PT Cruiser around 8 p.m., according to Sgt. Mark Wysocky, spokesman for FHP.

The victims were pronounced dead at the scene.

Earlier Tuesday morning FHP investigators traveled to Orlando to question a suspect in the fatal hit-and-run wreck. They told WPTV that they had spoken with the suspect and had recovered the rig.

However, Tuesday evening FHP said in a media release that investigators did not find the person of interest at home and had not recovered the 2006 Peterbuilt tractor-trailer believed to have been involved in the fatal accident. Investigators did speak with representatives of Mercer Transport of Louisville, Ky,, the registered owner of the semi, regarding the investigation and said company officials were cooperating.

One family member did confirm the two were visiting friends further south and were on their way back home to Lakeland.

FHP investigators called it a tragic situation.

"Anytime you're attempting to change your tire and a car veered off the road and hit the people…it's going to be a tragic site," said Sgt. Wysocky.

Both victims are former students of the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind.

Susan Dennis, Mariah's mother, released this statement:

I know god has a reason for everything, But why such a brutal and senseless act of cowardliness? Why take my baby girl and her fiancé  in such a horrific way? They were pretty much defenseless!!! They were off the road as far as they were supposed to be!! YES I am angry and YES I WANT JUSTICE but most of all I miss two people that I love with all my heart.. How could you be so cruel? They had enough challenges in life and they were doing the best that they could!! They were learning and living!! Now they have no chance to prove they could succeed. All they wanted was to be independent and live a normal life. Is that really too much to ask? I think not!! They were both the sweetest people you could ever meet and would help you in a second's notice!! I will remember both of them for all the beautiful times we shared the most recent being this past weekend had I known it would be the last I wouldn't have let you leave!!! Rest in peace Mariah King and Vincent Mathews heaven has received two more beautiful angels. Say hello to Uncle Tony and Jean and give them big hugs from me. You will be forever missed.

The president of the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, Dr. Jeanne Glidden Prickett, released this statement:

"Our heartfelt condolences go to the families and friends of Vincent T. Mathews of Lakeland and Mariah A. King of Davenport. This tragedy was clearly preventable and underscores the pressing need for increased safety measures within the commercial trucking industry," wrote Prickett.

The dark colored tractor-trailer has front damage and Illinois license tag P769293. The truck number - 13335 - can be found on the left and right front of the vehicle. The trailer is a Benson flatbed with an Illinois license tag T495080.

Anyone with information regarding Bates or the tractor-trailer is asked to contact Corporal Robert Ruiz from the Florida Highway Patrol at 772-467-3703 Ext 3126 or email at or contact their local Crime Stoppers.

WPTV NewsChannel 5's Laura Santos contributed to this story.

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