LAND O'LAKES — Three Pasco County jail inmates remained in local hospitals Wednesday, recuperating from their injuries after being thrown from a transport vehicle that skidded and flipped Tuesday on U.S. 41.
John Pelcher, 29, of New Port Richey, was listed in serious condition. Two inmates were in fair condition and three were treated and released back to the jail.
They were all "trusties," low-risk inmates returning to the jail from a county work detail at a county water treatment plant near Ehren Cutoff, according to Doug Tobin, spokesman for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. Tobin said the inmates did pressure washing and general yard work.
They were injured about 2 p.m. when the military-style transport vehicle overturned just south of State Road 52.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Deputy David Phaneuf, 50, lost control of the truck when he hit the brakes. The highway was wet from a heavy rain.
The vehicle spun off the road and flipped in the air, landing back on its wheels in a vacant, marshy lot north of Shettle Road.
One inmate rode in the front cab with Phaneuf. The other five inmates riding in the back of the truck were ejected.
"We are very fortunate that nobody was more seriously injured," Tobin said.
Phaneuf, a 15-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office, was "bruised and sore" and was treated and released from a hospital, Tobin said.
The transport vehicle is a 1995 surplus military workhorse known as a "deuce and a half" because it can carry 2 1/2 tons. The truck had routine maintenance inspections, with the latest on Feb. 3.
The back of the truck where the inmates sat was open — like a pickup — with a frame of metal bars and a tarp covering it. The inmates were not shackled or handcuffed. They sat on bench seats and did not wear seat belts, Tobin said.
Sgt. Larry Kraus, spokesman for FHP, said it is legal for people over the age of 18 to ride in the back of cars or trucks without seat belts. He said this particular type of vehicle is often used by the military to transport troops.
"It was a tragic accident," Kraus said. "The last thing (the Sheriff's Office) wants to do is flip a car with inmates in it."
He said the accident remains under investigation.
Times staff writer Molly Moorhead contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.