HOLIDAY — Sam and Mary Stucky were married for 65 years. People who knew them never saw one without the other. They did everything together — cooking, cleaning, puzzles, reading, going to church, to the store, to the doctor's office. So when news spread of their tragic deaths, those who loved them focused on the one good thing they could:
"We just thank the Lord they actually went together," the couple's son, Herb Stucky, said Thursday.
The previous morning his mother drove his father to New Port Richey for outpatient surgery on his finger. Sam Stucky was 88. Mary Stucky was 85. On their way back at about 11 a.m., something happened to cause their 2012 Ford Fusion to speed and swerve out of control through the entrance to their senior community, Tanglewood Mobile Village, off Moog Road in Holiday. Residents said the car seemed like it was going between 60 mph and 80 mph down Courtney Drive, and when it hit the curb of a cul-de-sac it sounded like an explosion. The car went airborne over a pond.
Charlene Williamson, 62, was about to get in the club's pool when she saw the car land nose first in the water. It overturned and sank.
"Those poor people," she said to herself. She screamed: "Help! Help!" She was the only one at the pool. She ran to the clubhouse and fell on the sidewalk and tore up her knees and sprained her wrist. She pounded on the door but no one was there. She ran to another house and got someone to call 911. By that time, other residents were gathering outside.
When two Pasco deputies arrived minutes later they saw a young man in the water, trying to get inside the car. There is a six-foot alligator who lives in the water and the bottom of the pond is thick with knee-deep muck. The water is black. The deputies — Cpl. Jesse Coker, 36, and Deputy David Pugh, 39 — jumped in and tried to break the windows with their batons. Nothing worked.
A firefighter showed up with a tool specifically used to shatter glass. They got one window open and felt a hand. Coker and the firefighter dragged Mary Stucky to the shore. She had a pulse and was taken to Community Hospital, but later died there.
Coker, Pugh and the firefighter kept diving under the water, breaking windows and reaching in the darkness but couldn't get to Sam Stucky. His body was found when the car was towed out of the pond.
The Florida Highway Patrol said Mary Stucky was the driver. Sgt. Steve Gaskins, FHP spokesman, said the investigation into the cause of the crash is ongoing. Both bodies are with the medical examiner's office to determine cause of death.
"There was no water in her lungs," said Helen Kidder, 82, who has lived next door to the Stuckys for 16 years. She said the emergency room doctor told family members Mary Stucky likely had a heart attack behind the wheel.
"Her body gave out," said her son, Herb. His mother had been diagnosed with bone cancer about eight years earlier and had been fighting it with chemotherapy, but nine months ago the doctors said it wasn't working. She didn't want to do experimental treatments. She'd had enough. Herb Stucky and his sister, Carol Sinclair, worried about what would happen after their mother died. They didn't think their father could live for very long in a world that didn't have his wife in it.
"If there is anything good out of this — that was the best thing," said Wally Amspoker, 70, who has been the Stuckys' neighbor for 20 years.
The Stuckys were high school sweethearts in Michigan. He served in the Navy during World War II and worked as a plumbing and heating supplies salesman. Mary Stucky worked as a secretary after her children were grown. They moved to Holiday in 1987 to take care of Mary Stucky's mother, who lived to be 100. Herb Stucky, 65, said his parents were non-denominational Christian and their priorities in life were church and family. They had six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, all of whom they adored.
"They were old-fashioned from that standpoint," Herb Stucky said. "Everything revolved around family."
And they treated their friends and neighbors like family, too. Amspoker said the Stuckys were like a second set of parents to him. Even though both Sam and Mary Stucky were in pain — he had a terrible back, she was exhausted from her cancer, both used walkers — they still went out of their way to help people. They checked on Amspoker's house while he was gone. They made cakes and lemon curd for the neighborhood. They didn't like to ask for help. They never let their troubles alter their mood. They were sunny and warm and kind.
"They never complained," Amspoker said. "Never complained."
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.