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Publix Crash Video and 911 Calls Reveal Harrowing Impact and Brave Aftermath

| April 17, 2012

Thelma Wagonhoffer, who was at the wheel of the Toyota Camry when she crashed into the Publix store, was charged with careless driving. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

A surveillance video from two angles at the Publix on Belle Terre shows the Toyota Thelma Wagenhoffer was driving Saturday afternoon as she plowed through the front glass doors, struck six people sitting and standing against a wall, including a three-month-old baby in a carriage, and kept going deep inside the store. The video shows the car speedily approaching the store from a parking aisle, speeding well before the stop sign–and not stopping there: there had been speculation that Wagenhoffer had started accelerating from the stop sign. That’s clearly not the case. (See the original story here.)

A couple had just ambled into the store, its back to the parking lot. A young Publix employee had just walked out and made her way to the parking lot, crossing the car’s eventual path. A sedan drove slowly along the store’s fire lane and made a left into the aisle facing the main door, just to the right of Wagenhoffer’s oncoming car.

Less than a second before impact, whether by protective instinct or other reasons, Marshanna Jones, 15, who was tending to the baby carriage, had placed something in the holding bag beneath the carriage, then had suddenly stood up, instants before the car smashed through the doors, taking her, the baby and the four other people there with it. The wall was severely damaged.

One of the witnesses interviewed Saturday had spoke of the baby carriage that the car had hit, describing it as catapulted down an aisle, without hurting the baby inside. The baby suffered minor injuries.

A different angle, from above the cashiers’ area, shows the Toyota inside the store, a distance past the check-out counters, as several people gathered around the car. Exactly 58 seconds elapse between the moment the car rammed through the store and the moment the rescue party was organized to literally lift the car from one side and free Mario Lupo, an 83-year-old Palm Coast resident who had been pinned beneath the car. Lupo was flown to Halifax Hospital with serious injuries.

No one was killed. Wagenhoffer was charged with careless driving. (An earlier version of this story had incorrectly referred to the charge as reckless driving.)

The store was closed for the rest of the day, though the doors were replaced with plywood before sundown, as nearly a dozen television news trucks had replaced shopper traffic in the parking lot and reporters rehearsed their evening stand-ups before cameras and glowing lights. The store reopened the next day.

Publix stores usually have protective concrete pillars in front of their main entrances, precisely to prevent that sort of accident, which is not unheard of in shopping centers. That Publix on Belle Terre did not have the protective pillars because it was one of the 49 Albertsons stores Publix acquired in June 2008.

The following is the surveillance video, originally acquired by the News-Journal, followed by two 911 calls released by the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office today.

Crash Video from Two Angles
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Two 911 Calls Immediately After the Crash
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The other aftermath, long after the crash. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

And presto: a new door. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

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37 Responses for “Publix Crash Video and 911 Calls Reveal Harrowing Impact and Brave Aftermath”

  1. goalie says:

    That is awful my heart sinks seeing that video. I can’t believe all she is getting is careless driving.

    • barbara says:

      It’s despicable…the elderly get away with these horrendous acts. Were it a young person they would have gone directly to jail

  2. Initialjoe says:

    Really!!!??? All this woman got was wreck less driving? No license taken away? Auggh. If I had done that “accidentally” I would have been in jail for life. That poor baby! The woman should be ashamed of herself.

  3. B. Claire says:

    There will surely [?] be an exhaustive, comprehensive investigation with equally thorough report[s] issued by one or more local, state authorities…not to mention legal entities determining cause & liability exposure. This reckless driving ticket can not, will not be the…’end of this story.’

    Continued get well wishes to all involved in this horror of improbabilities of being at this wrong place at this wrong time.

  4. meh says:

    another eldery person behind the wheel. probably hasn’t had a driving test in 40 years… she can extend the speed limit in a parking lot by god knows how fast, then blow through a stop sign into a store and nearly kill 100 people, and she gets reckless driving; the same charge you would get if you clipped a mailbox or rear ended another vehicle. she’ll be back on the road in no time ;) keep it classy FCSO.

    • Lola Bongga says:

      Just for the record, FCSO did not conduct the investigation.

      • Lola Bongga says:

        If one reads the original story of April 14, it clearly reads: The vehicle, according to a Florida Highway Patrol investigator, x x x x.

    • michelle says:

      I was one of the people who picked up the car. The driver had her foot on the gas peddle the entire time! My husband who works for FCSO told her to take her foot off the gas. You all say poor old lady, if you would have only seen what we seen. To clear a few things up, she did not fall or get ejected out of the car. When myself and four other men picked up the car to get the helpless man pinned from underneath, the diver was still in the car!

    • michelle says:

      FCSO did keep it classy! I guess you had to be there to understand the importance of saving someone’s life! Because I was there and so was every officer on duty that day. Do not judge our men of service, they reacted with True Class!

  5. Geezer says:

    Mrs Wagonhoffer had some kind of malfunction that day.
    This is not a case of “Careless Driving” by itself.

    When you get older there are factors that conspire to diminish your driving abilities.

    Deteriorating vision, Dementia, slowed reflexes, neuropathies of the foot, mini stroke, etc.

    That scene where she plows through that group of people is heart-stopping.
    My goodness…..

    Mrs Wagonhoffer will have to shop for cling-peaches another day.
    May I recommend Flagler Transport or a Taxi?

  6. Yellowstone says:

    Was she texting . . . ? Using a cellphone. . . ? Lighting cigarette? Spilled a hot cup of coffee?

    Can these bad practices be added to an near fatal investigation?

  7. Dorothea says:

    The most dangerous people on the road, in my experience, are aggressive elderly female drivers. They have little to no emergency coping skills, no respect for other drivers or pedestrians, and probably never drove much because they either didn’t have a license until they retired to Palm Coast or their husbands always drove. I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of times I have been forced to jump out of the way of speeding elderly, female drivers while walking on residential streets or crossing in a marked crosswalk with the light in my favor. I say this as an somewhat elderly female driver myself. Please, God, give me the good sense to stop driving should I become as thoughtless and mindless as this driver appeared to be.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I’m sorry.. that woman needs her license revoked. I can’t believe how lenient her punishment is…

  9. blondee says:

    Oh you better believe she’ll be losing her license, probably when she appears in court. In addition to that, she’ll probably be getting sued by the 10 injured people, and maybe even by Publix. No insurance company would ever insure her after all this.

  10. Ragrat says:

    If I where this Lady, I would have the car checked out. This was another Toyota running into people, and through buildings. They said they fixed the problem, but did they……….Just a thought.

  11. Gia says:

    There is no malfunction. Nothing wrong with the Toyota vehicle. She did not stop at the stop sign. They should remove her driver license. She is a public danger

    • Ragrat says:

      I take it that you are a mechanic? How do you explain this accident, and the one in the Northeast last year? I do not buy the foot on the wrong pedal, or the careless driving, the car looked in great shape, until the Ride!

  12. Anonymous222 says:

    People over 65 need to take a driving test every two years. This is happening more and more and can easily be avoided.

  13. James T. Kirk says:

    Let’s not be so quick to assign blame here, folks. What about contributing a little responsibility to the people sitting in the vestibule of the Publix. If they weren’t so lazy, sitting at the front of the store, they would never have been mowed down. Perhaps they didn’t deserve to be squashed like that, but I’m just sayin’…

    • Nancy N. says:

      You cannot be serious? So sitting down on a bench for a moment in your world is such a sin that they deserve part of the blame for being run over by a car INSIDE OF A BUILDING? What about the people walking inside the store? Was it their fault too for needing to eat?

  14. Anonymous says:

    Ragrat… the Toyota thing was proven in court to be the fault of drivers. Do some research on it. Regardless, a previous article about the Publix crash already stated it was not the fault of the Toyota in this case anyway, though I do believe she tried to give that excuse…lol

    In addition, you do realize that the “stuck pedal” problem was due to that Lexus ES350 with the 4 people that died was a loaner vehicle that had larger RX330 floor mats in it?? It was not literally a “sticking pedal”. The mats were too big for the vehicle and were put in there by the dealership thinking it would be OK. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

  15. David says:

    Though the elderly woman was charge with careless driving, she will have to go before a judge. The judge will probably makea determination to see if she is a risk to continue driving.. The judge will probably order a series of test to determine the woman’s mental and physical abilities.

  16. GoodFella says:

    She was charged with careless driving which is a lesser charge than reckless. Basically a slap on the wrist with a couple of points on her license. Not fair at all, she could have killed someone. And we still do not know the condition of a few of the people. They might have sustained injuries that will last them a lifetime. It would be nice if Flaglerlive can follow up with some of the injured people and give us an update. Hope all recover!

  17. B. Claire says:

    Palm Coast Publix car crash on ABC News with Diane Sawyer tonight… focus on elderly drivers.

    Latest news broadcast posted was yesterday. Believe tonights show will be posted soon here{

    This part of the story from this morning ABC.

    Apr 18, 2012 10:27am Woman, 76, Crashes Car Into Florida Market, Injures 10

    A 76-year-old Florida woman has been charged with careless driving after she slammed her car into a crowded supermarket Saturday, injuring 10 people, including a baby.

    Thelma Wagenhoffer, of Palm Coast, Fla., was nearing a stop sign at a Palm Coast Publix supermarket parking lot around 1 p.m. when her 2004 Toyota Camry “accelerated rapidly as it crossed the parking lot” and crashed through the store’s front doors, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

    The Camry, described by witnesses as going about 50 mph, then careened 40 to 50 feet inside the store before coming to a halt by the checkout counters, according to local ABC affiliate WFTS.

    Newly released surveillance video and 911 calls show the chaos that ensued inside the Publix as frantic shoppers fled for their lives.

    Screaming is heard in the background of the 911 calls as shoppers call to report what happened. The surveillance video captured by Publix security cameras show elderly shoppers waiting by the front door when the car hits, as well as a family sitting on an outside bench.


  18. getittogether says:

    If it was my baby whom Ol’ Drunkendorfer rammed into, she would be wishing every day for the rest of her life that she had quit driving. I don’t know when the younger people of this town will get off their lazy butts and start voting but until then, these fogies will continue to wreak on our roads and control all of our choices. There is an exam to start driving and there should be an exam to continue driving. Driving a car is a PRIVILEGE, not a right, and it should be earned. This woman should lose her privileges and then some for those poor victims.

  19. Jim J says:

    Again – do not rush to condem before the facts are in.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Ill bet that NOTHING is/was wrongwith the car. You hear of this often an older driver swears they are on the break but are in truth on the gas!

  21. Mark says:

    If you look at the first video she may have been on the brakes as she went through the door. My guess is she hit the gas instead of teh brakes at the stop sign then hit he brakes as she when through the door. You can see skid marks. An alternate view may be those aren’t skid marks but speeding tires on the tile floor at full throttle burnign rubber. Hard to tell. I still can’t believe no one got seriously hurt. WIll be interesting to see whatthe final out come will be.

  22. Mom to 5 says:

    First of all any word on the victims? How are they all doing?

    I can see her mixing up the pedals. I can understand the pedal being stuck. I can even believe some other craziness may have happened. The part that I am having trouble with is why she didn’t steer away from the bench. I know she lived in the area and I assume she has shopped there before. That said, I think she would know there is the bench there and people are ALWAYS on that bench. To me it looks like she aimed toward the bench. Only half the door was taken out. Just seems odd to me. Unless she had some mental impairment at the time that kept her from thinking rationally, I can’t for the life of me figure out why she didn’t steer away from there if the car were having issues.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Ragrat….. Try using reliable sources like the NTSB official tests. I mean really.. Huffington Post? Next you’ll be showing me Drudge!

  24. Spacecoaster says:

    Check out the tire marks in the first video. There was nothing wrong with the brakes on that car: she just never touched them until after she’d gone through the front door.

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