St. Marys family dies in head-on collision; driver of other vehicle identified

Mom, Dad and son killed in crash

ST. MARYS, Ga. — UPDATE 12/3/2019: The wrong-way driver of the vehicle traveling eastbound has been identified as Michael Ronald Russell, 51, of Ocala, the Florida Highway Patrol says. He was driving a 2019 Hyundai Elantra.

Family and friends are mourning the loss of a local couple and their 4-year-old son who were killed in a crash late Saturday night in Alachua County.

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The family of four was driving eastbound on SR-24. Another vehicle was heading westbound in the eastbound lane and hit the family's RAV4 head-on.

James Jackson was driving on that same road that night. He said he had a horrible sinking feeling when he saw a car driving the wrong way on the road heading toward him and other drivers.


"The family car was basically pressing over the top of the hill, and the other car came on top of them." Jackson said. "So, there is no way they could ever see it."

Christopher and Brittany Hesling were killed on impact, along with the other driver who heading toward them.

Christopher worked as a marketing manager at Naval Station Mayport. Friends said Brittany was a teacher and helped with school productions.

Jackson and three other people stopped to help. They heard crying coming from the back seat of the car. Inside the car was the couple's 6-month-old baby girl and their 4-year-old son.

"They were able to get the baby out." Jackson said. "I was able to get the 4-year-old from that window."

According to the crash report from the Florida Highway Patrol, both children were taken to UF Health Shands in Gainesville.

"He [the son] was unresponsive and (had) shortness of breath; his eyes were all red but he was gasping, breathing erratically."

On Monday, FHP reported that the 4-year-old son died.

Jackson did not know this family personally, but later found out they had a connection.

"Through six degrees of separation, I indirectly had a connection to them." Jackson said. "People that I was very close to actually knew the family and was very close to their mother."

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From what we've learned through friends and social media, the Heslings were beloved. One friend wrote on social media, "what a tragic loss for the world."

There is no word yet on why the other driver was heading in the wrong direction on the road. The car caught fire and the driver still has not been identified.

A representative from the naval base sent us a statement, saying:

"We are heartbroken over this tragedy and our thoughts and prayers are with the families that are coping with this incredible loss."