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Nissan plows into truck in Thonotosassa

THONOTOSASSA — The way the black Nissan Xterra dodged in and out of traffic in front of her, Victoria Fernandes was sure something bad was going to happen.

The 21-year-old picked up her digital camera and pressed record.

Minutes later her fears were confirmed.

With a clear road in front of him, Eliud D. Velazquez drove his 2001 Xterra directly into the path of a oncoming Publix Supermarket semitrailer truck on a two-lane stretch of U.S. 301.

The truck driver ran the rig onto the shoulder to avoid the sport utility vehicle. But the SUV smashed into the truck's rear wheels — demolishing the front of the Xterra and ripping the truck's rear wheels off.

Fernandes called 911.

The collision happened just after 1 p.m., and shut down the highway from County Road 579 to Mango Road. It remained closed for more than three hours.

A helicopter took Velazquez to Tampa General Hospital, where he was condition was upgraded from critical to serious. He was awake and talking, said Sgt. Steve Gaskins of the highway patrol.

Wade Holland, 21, of Temple Terrace was at work in a nearby auto shop when he heard the crash. He jumped in his car and rushed to the scene. When he reached the black, mangled Nissan, he found Velazquez pinned inside, bleeding from the head.

Holland said the man was struggling to get out of the car. Using first aid training he learned as an Eagle Scout, he held Velazquez's neck still until paramedics arrived, worried about the possibility of spinal injury.

"I told him, 'Don't move. Don't move,' " Holland said.

Then a woman with a pen light arrived and began checking Velazquez's eyes, he said, and they weren't responsive.

The driver of the Publix truck, 45-year-old Kipp Stephens of Sarasota, was not injured.

Velazquez had not been wearing a seat belt, the Florida Highway Patrol said. Tests for alcohol are pending, officials said.

When the Florida Highway Patrol arrived, Fernandes was gone.

"I had to get to work," she said. "But I called FHP later."

She said she doesn't know what made her shoot the video, other than a instinctive move to document what was unfolding before her.

"The first person I called was my mother, and I told her, 'Mom. You're not going to believe what just happened.' "

Holland shot his own pictures of Velazquez as he was pinned in the SUV but was cautioned by the Florida Highway Patrol about how he used them.

"How would you feel if your mother was in an accident and someone had pictures on the news before you were even notified?" said Cpl. Thomas O'Donnell.

"I wouldn't like that at all," Holland responded before walking back toward his car.

Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at rmitchell@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3373.

Nissan plows into truck in Thonotosassa 02/25/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 26, 2009 7:34am]
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