On Sunday morning in Bradenton, Florida, an elderly woman attempting to maneuver her car in a Florida parking lot backed into a group of people standing outside a clubhouse that was within a mobile home community. The accident resulted in three fatalities and injured four others, authorities said.
The incident occurred at 11:20 a.m. outside the Sugar Creek Country Club in Bradenton, which is located approximately 45 miles south of Tampa. Florida Highway Patrol Lieutenant Gregory Bueno said that the residents and guests of the mobile home community were churchgoers who had gathered around the building where services had just let out.
A report from the Florida Highway Patrol that was released on Sunday night indicated that alcohol was not involved in the accident. No charges were been listed in the report for the driver, identified as Doreen Landstra of Palmetto, but it conveyed that the investigation was ongoing. The report said that Landstra backed out of a parking spot and pulled her 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe SUV forward but needed more room to clear a parked vehicle. It was while in the process of backing up again that Lanstra’s SUV struck seven people. It is unclear in the report the reason she did not stop before hitting the bystanders. The Tahoe, says the report, continued to travel in the same direction after striking the bystanders. The automobile then proceeded to run over a curb and collide with some small trees. It came to rest when it became partially submerged in a canal.
The police report identified the person who was pronounced dead at the scene as Margaret Vanderlaan, 72. The two other people, who died after being transported to a nearby hospital, were identified as Johanna Djikhoff, 80 and Wilhemina Paul, 70. All three of the fatalities resulting from the accident were residents of Bradenton. The injuries of the other four pedestrians struck by the SUV were characterized by the report as serious and it was noted that they were transported to hospitals.
Muriel Watts, a resident of Sugar Creek Estates and a retired emergency medical technician, described the crash as “a horrible sight.” Watts said that she went up to an elderly woman lying face down on the ground and was unable to find her pulse. Watts said that she “knew [the elderly woman] was gone.” Watts then moved to help a man who she described as having “tire tracks from his ankles to armpits.” The other injured people, said Watts, had bloody knees and heads.
Lt. Bueno said that authorities are in the process of investigating why the car went into reverse. “It’s a tragic, tragic situation. Every time something like this occurs it breaks your heart,” Bueno added speaking of the fatal accident. Neither Ms. Landstra nor her husband, who was a passenger at the time of the incident, were injured. Attempts to reach Landstra by telephone have been unsuccessful, and messages left for her on Sunday night were not immediately returned. Bueno said troopers are still investigating why the driver’s car continued in reverse and did not stop. The Bradenton Herald has stated that the woman believed that she had put the car into drive. The driver, who is reportedly elderly, told a local reporter, “It was an accident.” As of Sunday afternoon, the four injured people remain hospitalized. Their conditions are unknown at this time.
By Donna Westlund