BROOKSVILLE — When it came time for a local agricultural institution to celebrate its 75th anniversary a few years ago, George Lee helped make it happen.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's SubTropical Agricultural Research Station on Chinsegut Hill Road opened up for tours that day, inviting dignitaries to get a firsthand look at its long-term studies on Southern cattle breeds and forage grasses. Lee, an administrative clerk at the research center north of Brooksville known as STARS, tackled the task with his typically pleasant demeanor, recalled Bill Sellers, state director for the Hernando County Cattlemen's Association, which helped organize the event.
"He was instrumental in getting things set up," Sellers recalled. "He was just a real hard, dedicated worker."
Before dawn on Tuesday, Lee was killed in a two-car wreck just a short drive from the facility he'd worked at for roughly five years.
Lee, 63, attempted to turn north onto U.S. 41 from Snow Memorial Highway, pulling into the path of a 1994 Dodge van driven by Joseph N. Musser of Brooksville, according to a report from the Florida Highway Patrol.
Both men were taken to Brooksville Regional Hospital, where Lee was pronounced dead. Musser, 43, suffered minor injuries. The investigation continued Tuesday, the FHP said.
Lee left STARS in the government-issue 2010 Ford Fusion just after 6 a.m. on his way to a training session in Gainesville, said Sam Coleman, the station's research leader. "He was a good employee," Coleman said after leaving Brooksville Regional on Tuesday morning. "Friendly, outgoing. He did what was necessary. It's a big loss."
Lee was married with grandchildren, Coleman said. A woman who answered the phone at Lee's residence and identified herself as his daughter declined to comment Tuesday.
An FHP trooper at the scene suffered non-life threatening injuries when a Hernando County Fire Rescue engine backed into his patrol car, the FHP said.
Trooper Glenn Crima, 42, was parked in the turn lane of U.S. 41 facing north and tending to paperwork with his leg hanging out of his Ford patrol car when Ryan J. Trinque, 28, backed the Pierce engine into the car, pinning Crima's leg between the door frame and door, the FHP said.
"(Trinque) failed to observe (the trooper's) door open ... ," according to the FHP report.
Trinque walked around the vehicle to make sure the area was clear before backing up, Hernando Assistant Chief Frank DeFrancesco said. By the time Trinque got behind the wheel and started to back up, the trooper had moved his car behind the engine, into Trinque's blind spot, DeFrancesco said.
"(Trinque) followed all protocols," DeFrancesco said.
The incident is still under investigation, the FHP said.
Times photojournalist Will Vragovic contributed to this report. Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.