GRAYTON BEACH — A traffic crash late Friday night in South Walton County claimed the lives of three local residents and left a fourth critically injured, marring the start of the Labor Day holiday weekend, the traditional end of the summer vacation season.
The two-vehicle wreck occurred at 11:45 p.m. Friday at the intersection of U.S. Highway 98 and County Road 283 near Grayton Beach, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. A 2003 Dodge Durango driven by 21-year-old Dustin Lee Dupree of Freeport was traveling north on SR 283 when it a red light and struck a 2015 Subaru Outback traveling in the outside lane of U.S. 98, according to an FHP report.
Dupree and the driver of the Subaru, 43-year-old Robert Michael Brown of Destin, died in the wreck, the FHP reported. Also killed was a passenger in Brown’s vehicle, 44-year-old Meredith Margaret Snow of Destin.
A passenger in Dupree’s vehicle, 25-year-old Brittany Elaine Spires of DeFuniak Springs, was taken by helicopter to Bay Medical Center in Panama City with critical injuries, according to the FHP report. As of Saturday afternoon, she was listed in critical condition, according to the hospital's nursing supervisor.
Social media posts indicated that Spires was in intensive care and being taken to surgery Saturday afternoon.
According to their Facebook pages, Dupree and Spires were in a romantic relationship.
In a recent post on Spires' Facebook page, Dupree wrote, "Your (sic) so beautiful! I can’t wait too be home, hopefully this week flys by!"
According to the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, the initial wreck caused a second accident near the intersection. Details of that wreck were not immediately available.
U.S. 98 at CR 283 was shut down for several hours after the crash. An FHP crash investigator and a homicide investigator were reviewing the wreck, according to the initial accident report.
Dupree worked as a welder at Yates Construction, a commercial and industrial contractor with offices in Destin. He had studied at Gulf Coast State College, according to his Facebook profile.
As word of his death spread, Dupree’s Facebook page was filled with sentiments of grieving friends.
″(Y)ou were the kind of guy who would give the shirt right off your back,” one friend wrote.
In other safety-related weekend news, the National Weather Service has issued a notice of high risk of rip currents in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties through Monday morning.
"Frequent life-threatening rip currents are expected," the Weather Service office in Mobile, Alabama, noted Saturday. "The surf is dangerous for all levels of swimmers."
The Weather Service office in Tallahassee issued a notice of high risk of rip currents for Walton County that was set to expire Saturday night. But the South Walton Fire District warned that surf conditions likely will be dangerous throughout the Labor Day weekend.
Forecasts from the National Weather Service call for a significant chance of thunderstorms across Northwest Florida through weekend, with a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms Monday.
After that, at a tropical wave is expected to move northwest from the Caribbean Sea into the Gulf of Mexico over the next several days.
"Environmental conditions are expected to become more conducive for development of this system as it reaches the Gulf by the early to middle portions of next week," the Weather Service office in Mobile noted on its website. The system is expected to track northward and westward over the northern Gulf of Mexico through the middle of the week.