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Car Plows Through Publix Entrance at Belle Terre; 10 Injured, But Heroic Acts, Too

| April 14, 2012

The vehicle, a white sedan, traveled some 20 feet inside the store, striking shoppers along the way. Click on the image for larger view. (FlaglerLive)

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.

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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

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

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.

The driver\’s Toyota Camry as it was beeing pushed out of the store. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

 

Thelma Wagenhoffer, the driver of the Toyota, about an hour after the crash, before she was taken to an FHP cruiser. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

 

Fire Flight takes off at 2:08 p.m. from the Publix parking lot with the wreck\’s only serious or critical injury, heading for Halifax Hospital. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

 

The Toyota is visible deep inside the store, under wreckage. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

 

The Toyota after it was brought out of the store. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

 

Fire Rescue\’s chaplain arrived at the scene soon after the wreck. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

 

Publix was not interested in having the wreckage publicly documented. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

 

Jim landon, the city manager, making a brief appearance at the scene as Palm Coast Fire Chief Mike Beadle did his part. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

 

Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

 

A much quieter scene, some 90 minutes after the crash. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

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72 Responses for “Car Plows Through Publix Entrance at Belle Terre; 10 Injured, But Heroic Acts, Too”

  1. Agnese says:

    OK So what’s it going to take to retest these people who should NOT be driving ??

       32 likes

  2. B. Claire says:

    Prayers go out to all the injured, as well as the driver.

    Thank you Flagler/Palm Coast Emergency Services…none better anywhere!

    Also understand Publix employees/guests also leapt immediately into action…heros all.

    Simply do not know how you do it FlaglerLive. Always first, most comprehensive reporting and most illustrative photos. Thanks for this ongoing great service to the Palm Coasters & Flagler-ers.
    Does it have something to do with a phone booth? uhh oh…don’t have them anymore. So guess it will remain a mystery. In any case, HUGE KUDOS & THANKS to you/staff.

       26 likes

  3. ol'sarge says:

    My prayers to all of those involved..

    Let me reiterate the need for an age based driving test before haphazardly handing out renewals…what is it going to take???

       21 likes

    • C. Blair says:

      Like that’s really going to happen. Palm Coast is PAID FOR by the elderly. If they can’t drive to the stores, no business is going to make any money. All the young people are jobless or on food stamps.

         14 likes

      • bob beck says:

        I resent the above remark. I am not elderly and not in foodstamps nor unemployed. Many of the young people who do work have to drive to Jacksonville every day.

           32 likes

      • elaygee says:

        Elderly on WELFARE. All of them over the age of 77 already got back every penny they ever paid into Social Security and Medicare PLUS interest and are now getting checks paid for by current YOUNG workers.

           4 likes

      • David says:

        C. Blair – You’re missing the point. It should be required that the elderly be monitored and required to take driving , visual, and writing test more often as they age. Remember driving is a privilege not a priority. If a person can’t figure out the difference between the accelerator and the brake, obviously that person should not be behind the wheel of a motor vehicle driving on our public roads.

           18 likes

      • Agnese says:

        Have you heard of public transport or taxis ?

           1 likes

        • just me says:

          Have YOU checked the prices of a taxi?? NOT CHEAP sweet heart and the FCT bus you have to call them at least 3 days PRIOR to book you transportation then you have to call them when you are ready to be picked up and WAIT and WAIT and WAIT for them to come and get you…when they have time..maybe you should do some research and maybe the car had a mechanical issue with it,just because the person was old,young,black or white or from another country does NOT automatically make and ACCIDENT their fault!!!!!

             3 likes

        • BEEBob says:

          No reasonable public trans. in PC.

             0 likes

    • Ben says:

      This is also why Palm Coast needs a public transport system. Give us one,so people her age do not have to drive. I do not be to ageist by saying that,but I just feel people over 65/70 should not be on the roads. I understand that we all need our independence,but getting on a bus is not losing that. Please for other peoples sake get a bus service in Palm Coast. Look at the 10 people who got injured. One real bad shape. It would benefit us all for a bus service. It would allow people to get to the out of the way cinema,the beach,and other parts of Palm Coast. It would save people to much money on gas also. It would create jobs,and allow other to get jobs in place they might not be able to get to other wise. The so called powers that be in Palm Coast need to be more forward thinking.and modernize Palm Coast dramatically. I agree bring in an age limit for driving. There is nothing wrong with buses, or getting on one.

         8 likes

    • Anonymous says:

      Age discrimination is what you are suggesting? AARP would not let that happen to them.
      What about taking responsibility on there part and turn in their license.

         3 likes

      • Nancy N. says:

        Age discrimination is allowed in all sorts of things when it’s considered a safety issue. Kids aren’t allowed to start driving till they are a certain age, to start drinking till they are a certain age, and there are limits on minimum ages for commercial driver’s licenses as well. At the other end of the spectrum – Air traffic controllers are required to retire at 56-60 years of age depending on who they work for, and commercial pilots at age 65. Military service members must retire from active duty at age 62.

           3 likes

  4. Ashley says:

    I’m sure the owner of the Toyota tried claiming faulty brakes out of embarrassment which is pretty sad. But really.. how on earth did she get into the Publix that far without thinking.. “Hmmm… maybe I should try something else?” Shock I guess? All I know is that we really need to institute retesting for individuals over a certain age. This is the second elderly individual crashing in just a matter of a week or 2 due to their own confusion (motorcycle hit on US1 by elderly man).

       13 likes

    • Greg Everett says:

      Doesn’t look like a very good place for a stop and go. Straight for the front door. Thank God no one was kille.

         1 likes

  5. Nancy N. says:

    Hoping for a speedy recovery for all the injured. And thanks to all of the heros that stepped up to help during this horror…I shop at that store several times per week and can’t imagine what it must have been like in there!

    The NHTSA released a report this week detailing demographic statistics in unintended acceleration accidents. The most frequent drivers who have these accidents are women aged 76 and older (no, seriously – the exact age of the Publix driver). The next most likely group are drivers under 20.

    http://bottomline.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/04/13/11183020-unintended-acceleration-study-blames-older-women-drivers?lite

    Accidents on our local roads the past week or so are just more proof that we need more testing of drivers as they age. However, as a community we also have to take on some responsibility if we are going to deem it unsafe for older people to drive. This community has basically no services available to assist those who give up their driver’s license in moving about the community. If we want this to be a safer community, we have to be willing to pay the pricetag for public transportation services so that our older residents can still do the things they need to do, without driving.

       6 likes

  6. Cindy D. says:

    Wow, great audio interview FlaglerLive. How scary. What an incredible group of Publix staff and customers helping the injured!

       4 likes

  7. Russell says:

    I find it hard to believe that she mistook the accelerator for the break. How do you slam 50 mph into the store and go 125 feet in without saying to yourself “Hey wait, that’s not the break?” Either she was distracted or she meant to do it. Maybe her medication turned her insane. Who knows.

       5 likes

    • Nancy N. says:

      She probably thought that she was pressing on the brakes and that they weren’t working. That seems to have been the case in several of the Toyota cases that were investigated.

         2 likes

      • Russell says:

        Investigators tested the breaks and they said they were working. Even if they weren’t, there is always the emergency break. Besides, how do you get the car up to 50 mph in a parking lot?

           0 likes

        • Nancy N. says:

          You need to read the MSNBC article I linked to, and the discussion in it about “deteriorating executive functions” to understand how a 76 year old woman might not think like you in that situation.

             0 likes

  8. palmcoaster says:

    Hope all injured recover well.
    Large shopping stores that concentrate a lot of people and traffic should have stopper/barriers in the access and exits .I see those in other states.. Doesn’t Target in Town Center have them? Before judging the driver, I will wait for the investigation to confirm that this is not one of those Toyota’s that accelerates itself out of control. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/15/AR2010021503235.html?hpid%3Dsec-business
    http://www.toyotalawsuitlawyer.com/
    I know local residents that have exchanged their Toyota’s for one of the Big Tree cars. I would touch a Toyota with a ten foot pole.

       4 likes

    • Quail Hollow resident says:

      Palmcoaster,
      You’re going to wait for the investigation about this being one of those Toyota’s that accelerates out of control? That issue was determined to be driver error the vast majority of the time. Also, you know local residents that have traded their Toyota’s in for Big Tree cars? Lastly, you would touch a Toyota with a ten foot pole? Were you driving in the Publix parking lot this afternoon about 1:24 PM? Just curious.

         2 likes

    • JR says:

      Yeah, ’cause all those other incidents involved Toyotas that accelerated on their own. Sorry if the sarcasm isn’t clear enough. The investigations two years ago found driver error, not poor manufacturing. But when Toyota themselves said they would voluntarily recall cars and check them out to make sure that their customers were safe, all the bats came out of the woodwork with reports of Toyotas out of control. Great day for all the wacky class-action trial lawyers, they could give a bad reputation to bad reputation, And right, Steve Wozniak can make a cruise control accelerate out of control — what does that say about his intelligence, he can make a simple input/output switch stay on? The guy created computers before computers.

         0 likes

  9. PCer says:

    How about we retest EVERYONE every 20 years or so?? I got my license at 16 from my driver’s ed teacher in Dade County, I have NEVER been tested by the DMV. By testing every 20 years, it is not discriminatory and they can raise some $$ from the fees for testing.

       4 likes

    • Nancy N. says:

      Every 20 years isn’t enough once you hit a certain age. Think about it….16…36….56…76….96? That’s not often enough to be testing drivers at the older end of that spectrum, when in a year or two (or even shorter) they can go from fine to a hazard to everyone around them.

         5 likes

      • PCer says:

        The only problem is that you need to keep it uniform, but practical. If you say people over a certain age will be tested, then they will cry age discrimination. It needs to be the same across the spectrum. I thnk we currenlty need to renew our drivers license every 6 years. Perhaps getting a drivers test every other time, or every time if there is a driving infraction of any sort (moving or non-moving violation).

           0 likes

  10. Binkey says:

    Since I’ve lived here I recall

    1 driver going into the farmers market
    1 hitting Perkins
    1 hitting Athens (the old pizza hut in Flagler)
    Another one hitting athens(I was there for that one…I ran out and told the guy to turn off the car)

    Any others?

       0 likes

    • David says:

      Many years ago a elderly man mistakenly drove his car down the boat ramp into the canal down by the marina. It was at night. Both he and his wife drowned.

         0 likes

    • Biker says:

      Think of all the motorcycle accidents just recently caused by seniors -2 people on US1 in Bunnell- Two – or Three bikes on A1A in Flagler Baech. One at Matanzas & US 1 , One on A1A in the Hammock.–This is all just in the last two months!!

         0 likes

      • Layla says:

        Time to ban all old people, definitely too dangerous to be around, even though the lady in the picture doesn’t exactly look like Grandma Moses….

           0 likes

    • Nancy N. says:

      An elderly lady crashed through the front of a hair salon on Florida Park Drive in a similar accident a few years back too.

         0 likes

  11. Ray says:

    THELMA, THIS IS DEFINATELY TOYOTAS FAULT. THIS IS 100% EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS WITH THE FAULTY THROTTLES ON TOYOTAS. IM GLAD TO SEE PALMCOASTER IS A SMART PERSON TO ALSO SEE THIS. TOYOTAS ARE GARBAGE AND VERY POORLY MADE. FOR ALL YOU IDIOTS BLAMING THELMAS AGE YOU DISGUST ME. IF SHE FELL OUT OF THE CAR, HOW DID THE WHEELS KEEP SPINNING?

       3 likes

    • PCer says:

      I believe they said one of the customers in the store had to tell her to take her foot off the gas before she got out of the car.

         2 likes

  12. Ben says:

    In England over 65′s get free bus passes. So get a bus service,and let the elderly ride for free. No harm in letting someone else do the driving for you,and you will not be forced to lose your independence,just losing a tiny bit of freedom as to how you get to your destination in terms of route,and time,but still getting to where you want anyway

       4 likes

  13. Rocky Mac says:

    This incident has confirmed that I made the right decision to not let mom use my car anymore. She is 83. As an above poster stated, there needs to be public transportation other than the city transport. Needless to say I am now driving mom to her appointments and shopping. Thank goodness I took early retirement.

       2 likes

  14. Anonymous says:

    A Toyota… I should have know. Ten bucks says Toyota gets sued for a faulty floormat/accelerator on this one. -_-

       1 likes

  15. F. Martin says:

    C. Blair is absolutly right!!!!!!

       0 likes

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