Last Updated: 4:24 p.m. Tuesday
Five people were killed and three injured in a three-vehicle crash late this morning (Feb. 5) at the notoriously dangerous intersection of Old Dixie Highway and U.S. 1, by the White Eagle lounge, in Korona.
It is the deadliest vehicle crash on Flagler County roads since five people were killed when a van flipped and crashed into the woods on I-95 on Dec. 5, 2010 just north of the Palm Coast Parkway intersection.
The crash took place at around 11:30 Sunday morning. It involved a pick-up truck, a sedan and a small SUV–the vehicle that carried all five victims who were killed. Early indications at the scene are that all five victims are adults. But some had yet to be extricated from the vehicle, which may have been struck from two directions. The extrication was completed at 2:35 p.m., and the medical examiner was taking the bodies to St. Augustine.
The victims were four women and a man, ranging in age from 53 to 74.
“They’re not local, they’re not from this area here,” Florida Highway Patrol Captain Michael DuBois said at the scene. FHP later reported them to be from Miramar, Miami and Pembroke Pines.
FHP identified them only at 2:14 on Tuesday afternoon as follows: Edwin Santana, 58, of Miramar, Maria Rosario Cedeno, 74, or Miami, Olga Melania Nunez, 70, of Miramar, Gloria Santana, 53, of Pembroke Pines, and Sonia Elena Melendez, 64, of Pembroke Pines. Edwin Santana was the driver.
Two adults and a child were hospitalized, Sheriff Rick Staly, who as at the scene, said. (The child was reportedly released from the hospital around 2 p.m. Sunday.) They were Jessica Walker, 22, and Elizabeth Walker, 4, of Bunnell. They had minor injuries. They were passengers in a pick-up truck driven by Christopher Rose, 34, of Bunnell. Louis Krombholz, 72, of Ormond Beach, was driving a Camry. He sustained minor injuries. All the injured were taken to Florida Hospital Flagler.
Based on preliminary findings by investigators at the scene, the Mazda SUV was traveling west on Old Dixie Highway, which dead-ends at a stop sign at the intersection with U.S. 1. The pick-up truck, a Ford F-250, was traveling north, in the right lane of U.S. 1. The third vehicle, a Toyota Camry, was traveling south on U.S. 1.
The SUV pulled out of Old Dixie onto U.S.1, seeking to make a left to go south on the highway, when it was t-boned by the pick-up truck. Just then, the Camry was preparing to make a left onto Old Dixie Highway, and was struck either by the truck or the SUV, after those two vehicles had collided.
Two of the three vehicles ended up in the median, the third, carrying the victims, was in the middle of the intersection, toward the southbound lanes.
The crash closed U.S. 1 in both directions north and south of the intersection with Old Dixie Highway. The investigation by the Florida Highway Patrol is expected to take several hours.
Stacey Peters, a 55-year-old resident of Korona, was pulling up at the White Eagle at the very moment of the crash.
“I’d just pulled up here, in back of White Eagle,” he said, “I heard an explosion, like a bomb going off.” He didn’t actually see the crash, but immediately rushed out across the parking lot to the scene. “I just ran to give first aid,” he said, but there was complete silence in the vehicle most damaged. “I didn’t hear nothing. Thank God I think they died instantly, there was no movement, nothing, or I’d have tried to do something.”
David Weatherington, a 55-year-old resident of the same area who was also at the White Eagle, said he was with Peters, trying to give first aid. He too saw that there was little that could be done just then. “I started directing traffic,” he said.
An older man was at the wheel of the smaller car involved in the crash. A man, a woman, a child and a dog were in the white pick-up truck. The man was at the scene, speaking with authorities or on his cell phone.
He and his family had been on their way home from the grocery store, FHP’s DuBois said, with their goods stacked in the bed of the truck. Many of those goods, including propane tanks, ended up in the median.
“As of right now, it does not appear that any alcohol was involved,” DuBois noted.
Early indications were that the victims were from the Miami area.
Staly was about to receive communion at church when he was paged with a report of the crash. He arrived at the scene shortly afterward because of the seriousness of the situation.
“This has been a dangerous intersection for a long time,” he said, “we’ve had a lot of fatalities here. A flashing light is probably not enough.” Staly said he will urge the Florida Department of Transportation to install a permanent traffic light at the intersection.
As a result of today’s crash, he said, he activated the sheriff’s office’s Critical Incident Stress Management team, which provides responding deputies and personnel at the 911 dispatch center with counseling services to prevent adverse psychological reactions to what responders hear and see at the scene. “The deputies are holding up well,” the sheriff said, but the severity of such scenes can take a toll even on seasoned responders, some of whom were clearly shaken up. The incident is considered a mass-casualty incident by the sheriff’s office.
Flagler County Fire Rescue’s Caryn Prather, who’s developed the county’s Critical Incident Stress Management team, was off duty today but ended up at the scene within 15 or 20 minutes of the wreck, and spend the rest of the day with her CISM team counseling and later debriefing members of the department. FHP had its team at the ready as well.
Aside from the traffic being redirected across the White Eagle parking lot from westbound lanes of Old Dixie, onto the northbound lanes of U.S. 1, the disquieting silence of crash scene had fallen at what would normally be a busy intersection. Flagler County Fire Rescue and Palm Coast Fire Department personnel worked to extricate the victims. Several units of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office and FHP were also there, with the Palm Coast Fire Police regulating what little traffic was trickling out of Old Dixie, and stopping it altogether at Seminole Woods Boulevard to the north, and further south of the crash scene.
Outside the White Eagle, a few people milled about, disbelieving. “Absolutely awful. Oh my God,” a woman said, before going inside.
Roger’s Towing of Bunnell was at the scene before 3 p.m. in preparation for the wreckage operation, and began removing the pick-up truck and the Camry shortly after 3 p.m.
Traffic was flowing again in both directions on U.S. 1 by 4 p.m.