ST. PETERSBURG - The driver who late Monday plowed into a row of cars while traveling the wrong way along Interstate 275 was described Tuesday as a private man who works in a toy shop and sometimes sleeps at a Salvation Army lodge. As of late Tuesday, Florida Highway Patrol officials had not charged 64-year-old Grove Eugene Belding, of Sarasota, in the accident.
But they say he caused a collision just north of the Roosevelt Boulevard exit that involved eight cars and resulted in injuries to Belding and four others.
All but one accident victim was treated and released from area hospitals within hours of the 10 p.m. accident. Edith Ellis, of St. Petersburg, was listed late Tuesday in critical condition at Bayfront Medical Center.
"Grove is a good guy," said Tom Mastin, manager of the Salvation Army lodge in downtown Sarasota. "He's come here on and off for five or six years. He's kind of a street person."
Mastin said Belding has not slept at the lodge since December, but frequently volunteered for kitchen duty there. Belding listed the lodge at 1424 Fourth St. as his home in 1988, the last time he got his Florida chauffeur's license renewed, state records show.
State records also show that Belding got his first Florida license nearly two decades ago. In that time he has received no tickets, records says. He has never been arrested in Pinellas or Sarasota counties.
Belding was treated at Bayfront Medical Center and released Monday at 10:52 p.m. He could not be reached for comment.
Although Mastin said he frequently talks with Belding, he doesn't know much about him. "To tell you the truth, he keeps pretty much to himself."
Mastin said he knows that Belding is not married, but doesn't know how he made a living or where. He said Belding frequently travels from Sarasota to Las Vegas, and that recently he got a job in a Sarasota toy shop through the American Association for Retired Persons.
Sometimes Belding would rent an apartment, Mastin said, and sometimes he would sleep at the lodge.
Mastin said he believes Belding now is living in a Sarasota retirement home.
"Like I said, he's been in and out and he's always been a polite, nice guy who never gave us any problems or anything," Mastin said.
St. Petersburg police say Belding hit a car in downtown St. Petersburg and then headed north along the southbound lanes of the interstate.
Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Randy Krauss said the accident investigation was incomplete and that investigators were awaiting results of a blood test to determine whether the accident was alcohol-related.
Those who suffered minor injuries in the accident were identified as: William Ellis, 53, of St. Petersburg; Dube Herve 72, also of St. Petersburg, and his wife, whose name and age were not known. Witnesses said Belding was driving fast and did not attempt to stop directly before the crash.
Krauss said Belding was driving north in the right-hand lane, indicating Belding may have thought he was on a two-lane road.
"That's why I always tell people if you don't have to drive in the right hand lane, don't," Krauss said. "There's no telling what's around the curve."