A 55-year-old Wendy's restaurant cook was killed and another man seriously injured about 2 p.m. Thursday when a Ford Ranger slammed into a Geo Metro turning onto U.S. 19.
The driver of the Geo, Michael Loeb of 8406 Corney Drive in Port Richey, was on his way home after his shift at Wendy's when he was killed. The driver of the Ford walked away uninjured.
The passenger in the Ford, John Dormots, 85, of New Port Richey was flown to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg with head injuries. Dormots, whose head hit the windshield hard enough to shatter it, was in stable condition Thursday night.
Witnesses told the Florida Highway Patrol that Loeb was driving out of Gulf View Square Mall after leaving Wendy's, just south of the mall. As he turned into the intersection to head north on U.S. 19, the southbound Ford struck his Geo.
The Ford driver, Dan Cochlin, 67, of 10900 Hayden Ave. in New Port Richey has not been charged in the accident. By Thursday night, the Highway Patrol still had not determined which driver was at fault, Trooper Kirby Overcash said.
Witnesses said they didn't hear either car brake before the Ford struck the Geo's driver side, sending its back end flying about 2 feet in the air. Both cars were spun around.
Loeb's car was so mangled that rescue workers had trouble getting him out. Damage to the Ford was estimated at $4,500. The Geo was totaled.
"All I know is I hit a green light," said Cochlin, a retiree. "I wasn't speeding. I didn't see the car coming and I just hit him. He just darted out from no place."
When the accident happened, cars full of Good Samaritans emptied to help direct traffic and care for the victims. A nursing student checked the victim's pulse, while several others helped Dormots, whose head was bleeding.
Co-workers at the Wendy's at 9127 U.S. 19 described Loeb as a father-figure who had a great sense of humor. Loeb, who had worked there for a year, also had a second job at a NationsBank in Tampa.
Chris Piotrowski, who saw the accident with co-worker Ginger Hamilton and got a manager to call 911, has known Loeb for the five years he was a daily customer.
"You name it _ he'll give you a shirt off his back," she said. "He's a perfect husband for his wife and he's perfect to work with. He's a person you'd never forget _ that's what so sad about it."