Last Updated: 1:04 p.m.
David Franks of Palm Coast is a 66-year-old retired accident investigator from Pennsylvania. This morning’s accident is one he’ll likely never forget.
At 10 a.m., Franks was standing by his 2005 PT Cruiser. The cruiser was banged up more than he was, its left front and left rear bearing the marks of a fresh double-collision. That wasn’t nearly as remarkable as his calmness, or the scene he was looking at. The Cruiser sat in the grass, barely a few feet, if not inches, from a sudden drop down to a vast pond. A little more momentum, and the cruiser, along with Franks and his wife, 46-year-old Laura Franks, would have been in the water–“in the drink,” as Franks put it.
And there, half-submerged in the drink, was another car, a two-door Honda Civic as brakish-gray as the water, every one of its air bags still inflated within, and a flipflop, just one black oversize flipflop, sitting on the roof of the car, remnant of the rescue that had taken place moments earlier, thanks to Flagler County Fire Rescue paramedics. Amber Brooke Smith, the 32-year-old driver of the half-submerged car, had managed to get out of it and climb onto the roof of the Civic, where she was plucked out by the paramedics with a ladder and taken to Florida Hospital Flagler. Laura Franks, too, was taken there.
Both women had non-life-threatening injuries, though Laura Franks had been dealing with unrelated back issues before the wreck, and was, in fact, on her way to a doctor’s appointment with her husband when the mess unfolded at mile marker 282 in the southbound lanes of I-95, at 9:12 this morning.
The Franks had just gotten on I-95 at State Road 100, going south. They were in the center lane of the three-lane highway. “She crossed over in front of us and hit the guardrail,” Franks said. “Then I moved over into the right lane, and put my brakes on as hard as I could and she came off the guardrail and got me on the left-front corner and kind of just knocked me off the road, and then she continued and went into the drink. I mean, she was totally airborne going into the drink. I’m surprised she didn’t land upside down. She went nose first into the drink, and then the back end settled down. She’s lucky she didn’t go upside down.”
Simultaneously, the Franks thought they were going to follow her down, because their car had been forced off the road and onto the grass, which, thankfully for them, was dry.
“I thought we were going in. I had my brakes on, I had them locked up, and my wife was in the car with me, and I told her, I says, ‘we’re going in the drink,’ so she unbuckled her seatbelt and she was ready to bail out,” Franks said. “And we’re going down a doctor’s appointment,” he adds with a laugh.
Laura Franks had virtually seen the wreck coming. “When we got on at 100,” her husband said, “there was an SUV in the right lane, and he wasn’t accelerating quite as fast as I was up to highway speed. So I moved over into the center lane, and I was just past the SUV and she was in the right lane, I was in the right lane,” Franks said, referring to Smith. “and my wife remarked, ‘pick one lane you want to be in,’ to her, you know, because she was already twitchy at the wheel, way back there. And then she was kind of straddling the right lane and the center lane, then she moved over into the right lane and I took my foot off the gas because I didn’t know what she was going to do. Then she moved over into the center lane almost directly in front of us, I would say less than two car lengths between us, and I said wow, glad I took my foot off the gas. Then she went into the left lane and she just continued right into the guard rail. I said, oh, my gosh, so I slammed on the brakes as hard as I could, and she came off the guardrail, and just whaled us. If the guard rail hadn’t been there, she would have hit someone northbound head-on. Head-on.”
Flagler County’s Fire Flight helicopter was briefly put on alert after the wreck, then cancelled, when the injuries proved less than critical. Florida Highway Patrol investigators at the scene this morning hadn’t yet had time to reconstruct the incident based on statements other than Franks’s, and evidence of the dented guardrail, so it wasn’t clear why Smith had lost control, or was driving erratically.
The salvaging operation was the responsibility of John’s Towing, the Bunnell wrecker. John Rogers, the company’s owner–and a Bunnell city commissioner–was at the scene. He brought one of the mammmoths of his fleet to conduct the operation, a 1988 Peterbilt Challenger T-50 (powered by a 450-horespower Caterpillar motor) that could lift 100,000 pounds, making the Civic an easy lift. George April crossed the water and climbed onto the Civic to rig it with the necessary equipment, at one point using a sledge hammer to smash the windshields at both ends and a side window to run ropes through. Dave Englehart helped him from drier ground. The tow truck then lifted the car and let it drain for a few minutes above the pond before bringing it over to the shoulder of I-95.
Sitting on the passenger side of the soaked car, where it must have settled after the commotion, was a paperback, Barbara Barton’s Don’t Say a Word. Authorities doing an inventory of the recovered possessions found another small purse stuffed with one or two other paperbacks, including The Sleeping Doll, the Jeffrey Deaver bestseller.
Smith’s insurance would be responsible for the day’s damage and repairs, including the cost of repairing the guardrail on the interstate, the cost of repairing the fencing around the bond, and the cost of the $400-an-hour rate of towers on the highway patrol’s authorized rotation.
“Some people went fishing off the pier today,” Rogers said. “We went fishing in a little canal.”