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Dunedin man copes with damage after car hits his home

DUNEDIN — Tom Belanger wouldn't be here today if not for his trip to the bathroom.

A little after 7:30 Wednesday night, the 78-year-old returned from a condo association meeting and immediately felt the urge.

While he was taking care of nature's call, he heard a terrible sound and felt his home shudder.

"It sounded like an airplane hitting the roof," Belanger said.

A part of the ceiling had collapsed, and Clearwater Airpark is not too far from Belanger's condo on Summer Isle Court, so a plane crash seemed plausible.

But when he stepped out of the bathroom he saw the culprit: A black Pontiac had driven completely inside his Florida room.

The smell was pungent, like antifreeze on a hot motor. The Florida room and living room were decorated with splinters of wooden furniture, torn screen windows and heavy blue cinder blocks tossed about.

The chair where Belanger sits to watch television was torn apart and cast across the floor.

"That's where I would have been sitting in 5 minutes," Belanger said. "I would have been dead."

It's unclear why the Pontiac came crashing through Belanger's house. The incident report from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office was not available Thursday.

According to Bill McElligott, a division chief at Dunedin Fire Rescue, the car left the road at Keene Road and Beltrees Street. It narrowly missed four condos, cut between some shrubs, crossed another street and barreled into the front of Belanger's unit about 100 yards from where it left the road.

There were reportedly four people in the car, McElligott said, but three fled by the time rescuers got there. The fourth was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa with injuries that are not considered to be life-threatening.

His name has not been released.

No one was arrested, and the car was not reported stolen, authorities said.

Building inspector Bette Farmerie guessed the damage could be in the area of $20,000 to $30,000.

Belanger spent Thursday in his house — without air conditioning — awaiting the insurance adjustor. Some neighbors had offered to put him up for the night, but he said he just felt more comfortable in his own home.

He hails from Rhode Island where he owned a bicycle shop. He moved here in 1998.

A father of three and grandfather of four, Belanger had just finished vacuuming the rugs and polishing the furniture in anticipation of a visit from his daughter and her family next week. Now there are bits of debris throughout his house.

"This has not been my year," Belanger said.

So far this year, he went through serious back surgery that required two months of rehab and left him struggling to walk; his beloved wife, Maureen Belanger, died; and now a car has crashed into his condo.

Still, he was taking the crash in stride.

"I have to," he said. "What am I going to do?"

Thursday morning he crossed the street to his neighbors who just moved from Vermont and welcomed them to the quiet streets of Dunedin.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Dunedin man copes with damage after car hits his home 11/13/08 [Last modified: Saturday, November 15, 2008 8:44pm]
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