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Driver dies after car hits railroad signal in Oldsmar

OLDSMAR — Cody Malander pulled into the parking lot of his job about 9:30 a.m. Friday.

It was earlier than normal. His boss hadn't even arrived and unlocked the doors of the Famous Pizza.

Malander, 17, sat in his car and waited.

It wasn't long before he looked across Tampa Road and saw a white 2009 Toyota Camry strike a railroad crossing pole at the intersection of State Road 580. He didn't realize he was seeing a fatal accident.

He said he didn't hear any screeching, skidding or any of the other sounds that usually precede a car crash.

"It was very quiet," he said. "No horns, no beeping. Nothing like that."

Malander just saw smoke and the railroad crossing pole fall.

A former Pinellas County Sheriff's Office Explorer, he'd spent hundreds of hours training for moments like this. He knew what to do.

Malander popped his trunk, retrieved his fire extinguisher and ran across Tampa Road. He doused the front engine near the radiator, the fuel line under the body of the car and the electrical wires.

On Friday, the Palm Harbor teenager was among the first witnesses and responders on the scene of a single-car accident that killed one man and shut down one of the city's major roadways for nearly five hours.

For seven minutes until emergency officials arrived, Malander and about four other witnesses broke windows, pried open door locks and tended to a man whose name they didn't even know.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office identified the driver as 50-year-old Louis Anthony Diaz, of Brandon.

"He was badly pinned inside that vehicle," Malander said. "He was pretty bloody. Blood on his face, his nose.

"One of the guys reached in and started getting his pulse because he started to take jumpy breaths. When he went to get his pulse, there was none."

Melissa Hartman, an office manager at a hauling company, said she saw firefighters when they got on the scene.

"They just looked at the vehicle and shook their heads," she said. "They just hung their heads as if solemn for the person in the car."

According to Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda, Diaz was driving west on Tampa Road about 9:46 a.m. when his Camry went off the roadway and veered right onto the curb. At some point, the car turned sideways and the passenger side of the Camry struck the railroad crossing signal pole.

It took officials three hours to extricate Diaz from the car and even longer to untangle the car from the pole and clear the scene. Tampa Road, which had been closed as crews cleaned up the accident, was reopened about 2:20 p.m.

The accident not only delayed traffic, it interrupted the operation of trains. The first train that approached the roadway after the accident was stopped and not able to pass until shortly after noon. Deputies said CSX will implement special procedures for trains crossing State Road 580 and Tampa Road until the signal can be repaired.

Diaz worked for SDI Diagnostic Clinic and transported radiology and imaging materials, Barreda said.

His family members stood on the scene, silent. A woman who did not identify herself said they would not comment.

After crews interviewed Malander and the other witnesses, they cordoned off the road.

Malander crossed Tampa Road and went to work.

Rodney Thrash can be reached at rthrash@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

Driver dies after car hits railroad signal in Oldsmar 11/13/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 13, 2009 9:29pm]
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