St. Petersburg Times

3 killed, 2 hurt in U.S. 98 crash
A Mercury Grand Marquis passing a car in Pasco County slams into an oncoming SUV.
Published May 1, 2005


ZEPHYRHILLS - A crash along a quiet stretch of U.S. 98 left three people dead and two others, including a baby, injured Saturday afternoon.

Mary Baltes, 32, was on the two-lane road headed toward Lakeland with her daughter about 4 p.m. when she saw the wreck unfold ahead of her.

A Mercury Grand Marquis and a semitrailer truck loaded with oranges headed southeast were passing a car as a Chevrolet Tahoe approached from the opposite direction.

The truck pulled back into its lane and the Mercury moved to pass it, too. The Mercury made it around the truck but as it pulled back into its lane the Tahoe and the Mercury collided, Baltes said.

The Tahoe hurtled off the road into some woods. Then the truck slammed into the wrecked Mercury.

A man climbed from the crumpled Tahoe screaming for someone to help his wife, who had been thrown from the SUV into the woods, Baltes said.

Also in the Tahoe was a baby.

Baltes said she and her daughter tried to care for the man and the child.

The man's wife was soon found. She was pronounced dead by paramedics.

A man and woman in the Mercury also died at the scene. The truck's driver was unharmed.

None of the victims was identified by authorities Saturday evening until relatives are notified.

The Florida Highway Patrol shut down U.S. 98 for miles in both directions as investigators worked into the dusk to piece together what had happened.

It appeared the Mercury and the orange truck both had made it back into their lane before the Tahoe skidded in front of them, patrol Sgt. Brian Archambault said.

The Tahoe may have driven onto the shoulder to avoid the passing vehicles before overcorrecting and turning in front of them, he said.

The Tahoe's passenger side collided with the Mercury's front end, probably at a speed close to 55 mph, Archambault said. Then the Mercury spun and was hit from behind by the truck.

Rescuers flew the man and baby from the Tahoe to Tampa General Hospital, where their conditions were stable, Archambault said.

[Last modified April 30, 2005, 23:59:18]