Note: The victims of this accident received emergency care almost immediatly from off duty emergency services providers who were passing by at the time as well as a U.S. Senator

I-75 rollover devastates family that caught ride with friend

By Shannon O'Boye
Staff Writer
Posted January 3 2003

A Tampa man who survived a New Year's Day rollover accident on Alligator Alley with minor injuries is watching his family slip away before his eyes.

Jocelyn Kali's 11-year-old daughter died in the median of Interstate 75. His 14-year-old son died Thursday at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood. His wife suffered injuries to every system in her body and is on life support at Broward General Medical Center. And his 20-year-old stepdaughter is clinically brain-dead.

The decision on removing the stepdaughter, Shadia Rene, from life support will be made by an aunt who is expected to arrive in Fort Lauderdale today, said hospital spokeswoman Jenny Pudwell.

Meme Chery, 33, the family friend who was driving the 1993 Isuzu Rodeo that rolled over after its right rear tire blew out, suffered a lower leg injury and was expected to recover.

Both men were in good condition Thursday night, said Dr. Ralph Guarneri, chief of surgery at Broward General.

The tire was a Firestone Wilderness, but it was not one of the faulty tires recalled by the federal government after thousands of them blew out, leading to rollovers in Ford Explorers, said Florida Highway Patrol Lt. John Bagnardi.

Chery was headed to Florida's east coast on business and the Kali family caught a ride with him, Bagnardi said. The group was about 12 miles from the Broward County toll plaza when the tire blew and the SUV rolled across the median and into the westbound lanes.

"A blowout alone does not cause a crash," Bagnardi said. "It usually takes some type of driver action. Many times when there's trouble with a vehicle, someone applies the brakes, and that's the last thing you want to do with a blowout."

The mother, Stella Kali, 41, and her daughters were thrown from the back seat of the vehicle, as was the boy, who was riding in the rear cargo area, Bagnardi said.

Chris Sutton, a paramedic with Lee County EMS, said he pulled up on the scene moments after the wreck and that the driver was ejected, as well.

The victims were scattered across the roadway and in the median, but westbound vehicles were still trying to drive by, so Sutton parked his Chevrolet Malibu sideways across the road and then ran toward the crushed SUV.

He had no medical equipment in his car, but he was able to pull a shaken Jocelyn Kali, 40, from the wreckage and then assess the other victims. He started breathing for the boy, Felix Kali. The girl, Felicienne Kali, had already stopped breathing at that point, he said.

It took Broward and Collier county medics about 15 minutes to reach the accident scene, but in the meantime, Sutton had help from several other good Samaritans -- a nursing student from Nashville, a firefighter from Inverness, an EMS worker from Boston, passers-by from Sarasota and Venice, and incoming Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

Frist, who was driving his two teenage sons to their condominium in Fort Lauderdale, identified himself as a thoracic surgeon, not a U.S. senator.

"He was a really good guy, he didn't try to boss people around," Sutton said. "He came in there and said, `What can I do to help?' And he got his hands dirty just like the rest of us."

Frist declined to comment Thursday. He said in a statement Wednesday that he was glad to have been able to help.

Despite the grim outcome, Sutton said he felt the same way. "We gave them a fighting chance," he said.

Staff Researcher Barbara Hijek and Staff Writers Bob LaMendola, Vicky Agnew and Sallie James contributed to this report.

Shannon O'Boye can be reached at soboye\ or 954-356-4597.