ST. PETERSBURG - The unidentified driver of an Oldsmobile sedan fled a hit-and-run accident Monday, headed the wrong way up Interstate 275 and crashed head-on into two cars at a bridge overpass. The driver and five others were injured, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. Eight cars were involved in the accident at 10 p.m. Two of the cars carried families from out-of-state who were heading south from Disney World along the interstate when the pileup occurred in St. Petersburg.
"From Disney World to disaster; this stuff is just supposed to happen in the newspapers," said Tom Egan, of Southington, Conn. Egan's rental car was sideswiped by the Oldsmobile driver just before he crashed head-on into the two cars traveling behind Egan. His wife and triplets, age 4, were in the car with him.
"We're lucky to be alive. I'm just happy to be alive," Egan said.
All those injured, including the driver of the Oldsmobile, were hospitalized; one was taken to Bayfront Medical Center by helicopter.
All were reported in stable condition late Monday.
The driver, who had not been identified by late Monday, did not slow down or attempt to turn around, witnesses and victims said.
Dave Schultz and Cara Farmer were driving in front of the Egans and narrowly missed the speeding Oldsmobile by swerving out of the way.
"He came straight at us and he must have been going 100 miles an hour," said Miss Farmer, 20, of Clearwater. "We swerved off the road but he got the people right behind us. He didn't even slow down."
The driver of a gray Ford was in the last car to be hit by the Oldsmobile. "We were going this way and he was coming from that way and he hit that car and that car and then flew over here and I couldn't stop. It was too fast, I just couldn't do anything." The driver's name was not known late Monday.
Three other cars swerved out of the Oldsmobile's way and were damaged slightly or avoided getting hit. The drivers of each were counting their blessings at the scene as workers from half a dozen fire trucks, several ambulances and several patrol cars tended to the injured and blocked traffic along an interstate overpass just north of the Roosevelt Boulevard exit.
"When you consider the seconds it took before you moved out of his way it's amazing, it's a miracle," said Margo Rock of Seminole.
Rachel Fletcher and her husband, Mike, were driving behind Ms. Rock when they saw the oncoming headlights.
"We came over the hill and saw the headlights heading toward us and cars scattering everywhere," Mrs. Fletcher, 23, said. "We got out of the way in the nick of time. We were between them (the unscathed cars) and the people that got hit. We got lucky.
"The funny thing was he was going faster. I mean he didn't try to pull off, and he didn't try to stop. He went faster."
Marla Bowman, her husband Robert and their five children were also headed home from Disney World when the accident occurred. The crash happened right in front of them and she said her husband maneuvered their car through the wreck once the cars had settled.
St. Petersburg police Sgt. Jay Brubaker said the Oldsmobile's wild ride began at 9:47 p.m., with a hit-and-run accident at Fifth Avenue and Third Street S. An officer responded, but the Oldsmobile driver by that time already was headed northbound along the interstate in the southbound lanes. Florida Highway Patrol officials also were alerted, but they couldn't catch up with him either.
"Two minutes after we got the call, he took off," Brubaker said.
Thirteen minutes and six miles later, he crashed.