Car Plows Through Publix Entrance at Belle Terre; 10 Injured, But Heroic Acts, Too
FlaglerLive | April 14, 2012
Last Updated: 6:18 p.m.
Updated with a list of victims’ names, at the foot of the article.
A car plowed at least 20 feet through the main entrance of Publix at Belle Terre Parkway and Palm Coast Parkway at 1:24 this afternoon causing 10 injuries, one of them a trauma alert. Authorities are at the scene evacuating the injured.
As of 1:45 pm, at least five victims have been evacuated from the store on stretchers. Fire Flight was landing at the scene, in the store parking lot. Both Palm Coast and county fire chiefs were at the scene, along with innumerable first-responder rescue vehicles and police, including the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Highway Patrol. The St. Johns County Fire Rescue department was also called in.
The vehicle, according to a Florida Highway Patrol investigator, was at the stop sign immediately facing the entrance when Thelma Wagenhoffer, 76, of Lewisburg lane in Palm Coast, appeared to have pressed on the accelerator instead of the brakes. She slammed through the glass-pane doors, the right side of her 2004 Toyota Camry struck a side door immediately inside the door frame, sending the car swerving left, then back toward the right, all the while as her wheels spun and left deep tread marks on the ground. She traveled that way into the store until, according to some eyewitness reports and FHP’s early accounts, she was told to get her foot off the accelerator.
By then she had struck several people, including an older man who was pinned deep under the car. Most of the injured are elderly. One is 15. All are from Palm Coast.
Employees and shoppers, after momentarily being stunned by the sound of the crash and the following screams, very quickly sprang to action, and by one eyewitness account 20 people lifted the Toyota and brought the man out from underneath.
There were no fatalities. No Publix employees were injured. “It is a hazmat situation,” FHP’s Cpl. Naugher said, “because of the blood on the floor. There is a lot of blood.” Alcohol was not a factor in the accident, FHP said.
There were reports that the brakes on the Toyota had failed. Naugher dismissed those reports. “I checked the brakes,” he said. “Vehicle stopped under its own power.”
Linda Goldstein works at the Cobblestone Publix in St. Augustine, but shops at the Publix on Belle Terre because she lives in Palm Coast. She was in the store when the accident happened. “It sounded like a bomb,” Goldstein said. “It was very shrill, and I knew something awful had happened at that point. I was just getting ready to take my blood pressure at the blood pressure machine. I turned my head, and then I saw, as this car came, spinning in really fast, glass spattering, front driver fell out from the impact. I saw her laying on the floor. There was a body underneath the car, a man. I saw that much. I saw the woman driver that was in the car. She fell out from the impact. She didn’t get out, she fell out.”
Mark Tsistinas, who owns Scoops Cafe nearby, was in the store, where he shops frequently, by the shrimp stand. “I was on the phone with my wife and I heard the thing–like an explosion, and everybody starts screaming. So I go running over and the car was over by where the potato chips were, and the wheels were spinning, you know, like this, and so I think one of the patrons, from what I remember one of the patrons actually opened the door up and either shut the key off or told them, told the lady get your foot off the gas, either one. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was, and it stopped. Two people were pinned in the front, OK? Then there was an 80-year-old man, in his 80s, that was actually under the car. So they got the two people from the front of the car out, because they weren’t pinned that bad, they were able to get away, and then 20-plus people went over and lifted the car up. It was the most amazing thing I’ve seen in my life. And they pulled him out. In the meantime I went to the pharmacy, I grabbed gauze, I grabbed gloves, I started throwing it to everybody and we start patching all the wounds, you know, head wounds, leg wounds.”
The man under the car was Mario Lupo, 83, of Palm Coast.
Audio: Mark Tsistinas’s Complete Eyewitness Account
Tsistinas said the driver of the Toyota did not appear hurt. “I heard later on that there was a baby in a carriage that the car hit, and the carriage drove down the middle of the aisle, the baby was not hurt. I’m not sure what happened with the mother,” Tsistinas continued. I”f I had seen the baby I would have been I think a lot worse shape than I am right now, you know? But it was pretty horrific.” The Scoops Cafe owner recalls helping probably three or four victims, one of whom asked him to call her son (the call was successful). “There was another fellow that was thrown on top of the flowerbed display. He was laying there on top of that. He looked–he was coherent, he was talking, he seemed OK, he was hurt, though. But he was not as hurt as worse as the other people. There was one woman there, she was bleeding from the back of the head, so we got a whole bunch of gauze and we, you know, packed the back of her head.”
After the initial panic, Tsistinas said, “everybody went into help mode.”
At 2:06 p.m., Flagler County Fire Chief Don Petito said: “We transported a total of 10 patients. Most of them went to Florida Hospital Flagler, the helicopter is taking one to Halifax Hospital.” The helicopter took off at 2:05 p.m. with the only serious or critical injury in the accident. As it turned out, eight patients were actually transported to hospitals, two were not.
Petito said during triage, all patients’ conditions are categorized between red, yellow and green, with red as the worst condition, green as “walking wounded.” Most of the patients were in the green category, Petito said.
The driver remained at the scene until after 3 p.m. She was believed to have been one of the injured people who were transported, but in fact she was up and walking, always in the proximity of a Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy, until, at close to 3:30, she was taken to an FHP vehicle. She was not in handcuffs, but she faces at least careless driving charges, an FHP investigator said.
The sheriff arrived at the scene at 2:12, by which time all patients had been taken away to area hospitals. “The lady from what I gather made a stop at the stop sign,” he said, “went to move, the accelerator jammed, she went through the glass window of Publix and hit numerous people on the inside. We had about seven or eight people transported to the local hospitals, we don’t know their conditions at this time.” Fleming, dressed in a relaxed weekend shirt, had been at a birthday party at Hammock Beach when he got the call about the accident.
Jim Landon, the city manager, made a brief appearance at 2:27 p.m. Roger’s Towing hauled off the Toyota at 2:29.
A building inspector was due at the store later in the afternoon. The store could not reopen without such an inspection. Publix intended to remain closed until then, but be ready to open possibly today, but more likely Sunday morning. The Publix liquor store at the west end of the building, quite a distance from the main entrance, had been shuttered, too.
At 3:48, Mike Beadle, Palm Coast’s fire chief, sent out word through central dispatch that all units had left the scene. “Please pass on to dispatch,” Beadle said, “great job by everybody. Thanks for the help.”
It was a deceptive calm: not long after, a stream of television station trucks drove in, topping off at eight
Here’s the list of the injured as released by the Florida Highway Patrol:
- Mario Lupo, 83, of Palm Coast, serious injuries.
- Maria Hernandez, 81, of Palm Coast, serious injuries.
- Gertrude Marley, 86, of Palm Coast, minor injuries.
- Suzanne Kuczek, 54, of Palm Coast, minor injuries.
- Lashauna Hapton, 33, of Palm Coast, minor injuries.
- Marshanna Jones, 15, of Palm Coast, minor injuries.
- Tyshawn Davis, 3 months old, of Palm Coast, minor injuries.
- Daniel Siegel, 58, of Palm Coast, minor injuries.
- Louis Caroppoli, 74, of Palm Coast, minor injuries.
- Letricia Caroppoli , 69, of Palm Coast, minor injuries.
Caroppoli and Davis were not taken to hospital. All others were taken to Florida Hospital Flagler, except for Lupo, who was taken to Halifax by air.