Three people are dead and at least five more are injured after an elderly woman accidentally backed into a crowd of people while leaving church, authorities said.
The crash happened late Sunday morning in the Sugar Creek Country Club 55-and-over mobile home community off Belinda Circle and Clubhouse Drive in East Bradenton.
Witnesses said 79-year-old Doreen Landstra appeared to think she put her large Chevrolet sport utility vehicle in "drive," but instead shifted into reverse and traveled backward through the clubhouse parking lot.
Johanna Dijkhoff, 80, died at the scene. Wilhemina Paul, 70 and Margaret Vanderlaan, 72, were both taken to Blake Medical Center where they later died.
Some residents heard screams, while others saw the accident unfold.
Jan Verstveg said he watched as Landstra reversed into the crowd.
"She was just backing out, made a turn coming this way, and then she was going to go ahead and go out and I guess she didn't put it in forward - in drive - and she stepped on the gas and she went the same way," said Verstveg.
Landstra told us she was pulling out of a parking spot when, "somehow the pedal got stuck" as she reversed in to a crowd of people. She said, "it was all a terrible accident."
"We were just standing here talking for a few minutes, you know you see new friends and all that," said Verstveg.
She drove into and through the pedestrians, then kept going until her vehicle went into a creek, witnesses said.
Verstveg said the one of the victims was a woman originally from the Netherlands.
"The lady who died, I knew her," Verstveg said. "I was just talking to her and she died just seconds later."
Verstveg said in the last conversation he had with the woman, she talked about how she was having a great time visiting the U.S.
"She was here for a month, and she died in the process," said Verstveg.
The four other victims are listed in serious condition. They are 67-year-old Nelly Depooter, 75-year-old Nellie Vlasma, 89-year-old Fred Eringa, and 71-year-old Michael Claus.
The driver of the crash was interviewed by investigators and left the scene with her family. She and her husband, who was a passenger in the car at the time, were not seriously hurt.
Retired EMT in community rushes to help victims
A retired emergency medical technician who lives in the community was at the right place at the right time.
Muriel Watts heard a knock at her door Sunday morning. It was one of her friends desperate for her help.
“She just flew open the door and said someone has been hit,” said Watts.
Watts, a retired EMT with 21 years of experience, took off running. When she got to the parking lot, she saw people on the ground and the white vehicle submerged in the water behind the church.
“The first person I went to, she was obviously dead,” said Watts. “Took her pulse three different times, she was deceased, I covered her up."
She then ran to the others to help.
“I went to another person, she was critical,” she said. “No movement, had a pulse but she was not doing too well.”
Watts said this is a tragedy her community will have a hard time dealing with.
It’s going to be horrible,” she said. “People know people, it’s a very close community in our park, and it’s just its going to be horrible.”