POMPANO BEACH -- A Mitsubishi car blew through a red light and into the path of a fire truck on an emergency call in Pompano Beach early Sunday morning, leaving two men dead, another critically injured and three firefighters badly shaken, investigators said.
Driver Thomas Hockman, 22, of Pompano Beach, and Lucas Hamilton, 24, of Boca Raton, died at the scene. Backseat passenger Jonathan Markert, 24, of Boca Raton, remains in critical condition.
Hockman's car was destroyed when he apparently ignored a red light and cut off a Pompano Beach Fire Department ladder truck, operating with lights and siren on, at the intersection of U.S. 1 and Atlantic Boulevard about 2 a.m., Broward Sheriff's Office investigators said.
The three firefighters suffered no injuries but were deeply disturbed by the crash and the carnage it left behind, a fire department spokeswoman said. They will be offered counseling and are not expected to face discipline, said Sandra King of Pompano Beach Fire-Rescue.
"The damage is what you would expect if a locomotive had hit the car,'' said King, who didn't name the firefighter who was driving or the other men on board. "The ladder truck had the green light and was going about 30 to 35 miles per hour when it hit. It was a very bad scene, obviously.''
Loaded with water and headed south on U.S. 1, the truck dragged Hockman's car for about half a block before coming to a halt, King said. Several witnesses told Broward Sheriff's Office investigators that Hockman clearly drove through a red traffic light as he headed west, about two miles from the beach.
Markert was taken by ambulance to North Broward Medical Center.
Hockman had a spotty driving record and his Florida driver's license was scheduled to be suspended on Aug. 5 for failure to pay fines on other traffic incidents, according to state driving records. Last year he was found guilty of failing to use care when driving, and in 2002 he was convicted of speeding, the records say.
Among those who saw the crash were friends of the victims following behind from a Saturday night party, King said. The Sheriff's Office traffic homicide unit is investigating.
Other witnesses included a church group returning from an evening out. Maxine Reed Washington, a Pompano Fire-Rescue secretary, was part of that group and provided a detailed description of the crash to investigators. She could not be reached for comment later Sunday.
The crash happened during a hectic period for Pompano firefighters, King said. Shortly before 2 a.m., the department got a call that a boat owner had rammed a dock at his home and banged his head. About the same time, the department got a fire call.
The ladder truck was sent to the boat owner's home and followed a rescue ambulance, which cleared the intersection seconds before the crash.
The rescue truck abandoned the boat call and returned to the accident scene because the passengers were obviously in bad shape, King said. The boat owner did not have life-threatening injuries and was treated later by another crew.
"Even though the firefighters did nothing wrong, I know they were extremely shaken,'' King said. "They feel their job is to save people, and here they were involved in something that they knew right away people weren't going to survive.''
Later Sunday, the Boca Raton apartment Lucas Hamilton shared with his girlfriend filled with his childhood friends. Ailish Quilter, 24, had lived with Hamilton for four years but knew him from their student days at Spanish River High School. They were part of a close-knit circle of friends who grew up in western Boca Raton and were stunned by the death.
Quilter was in Orlando for a friend's wedding when she got word of the accident.
Standing outside the apartment, flanked by her parents, she described Hamilton as a straight shooter, an only son who loved working for his father as an electrician. The couple planned to marry, buy a house and have children.
"He was a hard worker and he'd give you the shirt off his back," Quilter said through tears. "With him it was `what you see is what you get.' He loved life and he loved his truck. Being an electrician was his passion."
In photographs Hamilton, wearing a baseball cap and a goatee, grins shyly. In one picture Quilter, whose family is Irish, and Hamilton stand against the backdrop of a lush green landscape on a trip to Ireland they took last summer.
Funeral plans for Hamilton are pending. A memorial service will from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Kraeer Funeral Home, 1353 N. Federal Highway in Boca Raton. For details call the funeral home at 561-395-1800.
Staff Researchers Cindy Kent and Tracy Ahringer contributed to this report.