BRADENTON — They came together in fellowship Sunday to pray and take communion in a retirement village like so many in Florida. Golf carts passed on sedate streets with signs that playfully warned, "Caution. Seniors at play."
As residents of the Sugar Creek Country Club left their clubhouse after a church service ended at 11 a.m., knots of people lingered in the parking lot to talk, laugh and share gossip.
That's when Doreen Landstra, 79, a former choir director at the community in Bradenton, backed out of a handicapped parking space and lost control of her SUV, barreling over a group of residents, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. The accident killed three people and left four others injured at the mobile home community, about 45 miles south of Tampa.
"People were in a panic screaming and yelling," said resident Bob Emeterio, who was driving nearby in a golf cart when the accident occurred. "It was just terrible. It was hard to believe. I counted six people on the ground. One of them wasn't moving at all."
An FHP report says Landstra backed out of a parking spot, pulled her 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe forward and needed more room to clear another parked vehicle. Her husband, Fred Landstra, 87, was in the passenger seat. At that point, Doreen Landstra's SUV began backing up again and struck seven people. The report doesn't make clear why she failed to stop before hitting people.
The report says the Tahoe continued in the same direction before running over a curb, colliding with some small trees, and coming to rest in a canal, partially submerged.
The accident was not alcohol-related and the investigation was continuing, the FHP said.
Messages left for Landstra on Sunday night weren't immediately returned. Neither she nor her husband was injured.
Residents of the community said Landstra gets around on foot with the aid of a walker. At the time of the accident, she was headed to dinner with friends in town from Michigan, said Eleanor Stone, a resident who knows Landstra. She said Landstra didn't allow her husband to drive.
"She always drove," Stone said. "I don't know why."
Landstra sat on a bench near the clubhouse by her husband after the crash and told a reporter for the Bradenton Herald, "It was an accident."
Pastor Gerrit Koedoot, who is a resident of the community, said Landstra was in shock. "I don't really think she knew what happened," he said.
One person was pronounced dead at the scene, and two others died after being transported to a nearby hospital. The police report identified those who died as Margaret Vanderlaan, 72; Wilhemina Paul, 70; and Johanna Dijkhoff, 80. All three were from Bradenton.
The police report characterizes the injuries of four other pedestrians as serious and says they were taken to hospitals.
Muriel Watts, a Sugar Creek Country Club resident and a retired emergency medical technician, described the aftermath of the crash to the Bradenton Herald as "a horrible sight."
She said she approached one elderly woman who was lying face down on the ground but could not find a pulse. "I knew she was gone," Watts said. A resident covered the dead woman with a tablecloth.
Herman Kaldeway, Margaret Vanderlaan's brother who also lived in the community, attended a memorial service at the clubhouse about 7 p.m. He said he held no ill will toward Landstra.
"I think we have to keep the lady in our prayers," Kaldeway said. "It was an awful accident, not a deliberate act."
Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Weston Phippen contributed to this report, which also contains information from the Associated Press.