LAND O'LAKES — Around lunchtime Friday, Charles Campbell drove to SunTrust bank to cash a check. He pulled out of the lot and onto the entrance to State Road 54, a little west of U.S. 41. At the stop sign, he paused. Traffic was coming, but he could have made it. But something in him said to wait.
At that very moment, there was an explosion. A black 1997 Corvette traveling west on SR 54 lost control, skidded over the grass median and crashed into a truck hauling a trailer.
I'm going to get hit, Campbell thought, and clenched his body. There was nothing he could do to stop it or get out of the way. Debris showered over his truck like a glass and metal hail storm.
The Corvette spun, its driver ejected into a telephone pole. The truck, with three men inside, overturned in the air, inches from Campbell, and landed on its roof.
"It happened so fast," said Campbell, 50, still trembling more than an hour after the crash. Sweat poured off his body and his hands shook as he stood, with other bystanders, along the crime scene tape.
After the vehicles came to rest, Campbell jumped out of his car, called 911 and ran to the man thrown from the Corvette. It was a grisly site. Campbell had never seen someone dead, other than at a funeral. He felt so sad for the stranger.
Then Campbell ran to the truck. They seemed okay, though cut up and one seemed to have a broken leg. Two were flown by helicopter to a hospital.
The Florida Highway Patrol identified the Corvette driver as Andy William Suarez, 34, of Tampa. The driver of the truck was Abel Ortega Jr. of Plant City. His injuries are listed as minor. Passengers were Abel Ortega-Fernandez Sr., 62, also of Plant City, with serious injuries, and Fabin Villegas, who is not listed as injured.
Eastbound traffic was stopped for about 1 1/2 hours before one lane was cleared. Cars were backed up and one woman in a black car held her hand on her horn in impatience, either unaware or uncaring that a man still lay dead under a sheet on the side of the road.
A young married couple, David and Kelly Valdez, passed the wreck and then went to their church to pray for those in the crash. Then they parked close by and stood with the others, watching troopers investigate. Kelly, 25, kept wiping tears from her eyes for a man she never met but felt such sorrow for, all the same.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4609.