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Instinct to shoot video of traffic accident got Tampa student on TV

ZEPHYRHILLS — When you work in a call center, life happens on your breaks.

On Thursday, during hers, Victoria Fernandes got the star treatment.

News stations wanted to air her video of a traffic accident. A network wanted to fly her to New York. Everybody wanted to know what possessed her to shoot a video while driving.

"I said, 'I don't know,' '' she said, speaking from the Zephyrhills marketing company where she works. "I don't know."

At a time when everybody seems to be on Facebook or MySpace, amateur video is hard to escape.

You see it on cable news. It's all over the Internet. The next Quentin Tarantino could be walking any street corner or, in this case, motoring a Hyundai Sonata along U.S. 301, listening to Kanye West.

Fernandes, 22, does not aspire to be an Oscar-winning filmmaker.

She shoots with a Sanyo Xacti she says is worth about $250.

A student at Tampa's Keiser University, she is finishing up an associate degree in crime scene technology.

She uses the camera for both a photography class and personal enjoyment.

Sometimes, she said, she will film while at a stoplight. On vacation in Puerto Rico, she filmed street scenes as a passenger.

Her actions on Wednesday, she insisted, were just an impulse.

• • •

It was shortly after 1 p.m. Fernandes was on her way to the call center, a little bit early.

A teacher had taken her and some fellow students to lunch at Chili's.

"I was riding on the road when I saw the SUV in front of me swerving," Fernandes said.

"He almost hit a couple of other cars. The road opened up a little bit and he did a larger swerve. He was swerving for a couple of minutes, almost five. I tried backing up from him. I didn't know if he was playing or what."

Instinctively, she reached for the Sanyo. I'll hold onto my camera to see what happens, she thought.

The camera was small enough so she could keep one hand on the wheel. Part of her other hand she kept on the wheel, part on the small camera.

She viewed the wobbly Nissan Xterra through a flip-out screen. "The zoom button is not hard to press," she said.

Seconds later, Fernandes saw an oncoming Publix truck veer off the road onto the shoulder, trying to avoid a collision.

But the SUV plowed into the rear end of the trailer. The video captured the instant the Xterra shattered.

Fernandes put the camera down.

She called 911.

• • •

The driver of the SUV, Eliud Velazquez, was in serious condition at Tampa General Hospital Thursday. Authorities are still investigating what caused him to drive so erratically.

"We believe he might have been experiencing a medical condition," said Sgt. Steve Gaskins of the Florida Highway Patrol.

Fernandes said she went to work after the emergency call, making sure first that help was on the way.

Because Fernandes was not on the scene when officials arrived, Gaskins could not comment directly about her camera work.

In general, he said, recording while driving does not happen often, and is not a good idea.

"You need both hands on the wheel. Just like being on the phone, it's a distraction,'' he said.

"Also, next time you're a passenger, try this. Take a pair of binoculars, look at the road and see how funny it looks. It's a weird experience. The whole idea is, you need your peripheral vision."

Fernandes said she left when she did because she did not want to be too late for work.

Her mother read about the accident on tampabay.com. Reporters had heard the crash was captured on video, and the Web post included a request for the video.

During one of her breaks, Fernandes received a text message from her mom.

During another, she did a brief interview with tampabay.com, which is paying for use of the video.

On Thursday, Fernandes said, requests came from all over: "FOX-13, Bay News and ABC and CBS, FOX in New York. …"

She was headed to New York that evening, she said, to appear on CBS News.

Fernandes considers herself a good driver. She will not even talk on a cell phone unless she can use her earpiece.

And no, mom didn't scold her, she said. "She's glad I'm safe."

Marlene Sokol can be reached at sokol@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5307.

Instinct to shoot video of traffic accident got Tampa student on TV 02/26/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 2, 2009 11:13am]
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