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ACCIDENT ON THE HOWARD FRANKLAND // Car plows into trooper on bridge

Michael Crawford heard the scream just as he loosened the last lug nut to change a flat tire on his Volkswagen Beetle.

Highway Patrol Trooper Deborah K. Hawkins, who had parked her cruiser behind Crawford's car on the Howard Frankland Bridge and gotten out to watch him change the tire, saw a Ford Bronco speeding toward her car. She screamed "Oh my God" and ran for the concrete wall.

Crawford heard a smash, saw the black patrol car coming toward him, felt himself fly.

When everything stopped, Crawford crawled toward the trooper _ whose legs were pinned between her car and the wall. He heard her high-pitched wail.

"It literally made my heart stop," said Crawford, 19, of Pinellas Park.

Hawkins, 31, was flown to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, where doctors worked into this morning to repair her damaged arteries and reconstruct her broken legs.

She was in critical condition late Thursday.

Troopers said the accident happened when Christopher C. Ellsworth, 18, (two-time U.S. junior board sailing champion on his way from St. Petersburg to the Davis Island Yacht Club, glanced in his side view mirror to admire a nearby truck and allowed his 1986 Ford Bronco to drift into the emergency lane. He was going close to the speed limit when the Bronco slammed into the cruiser, forcing it into the Volkswagen, then pinning Hawkins against the wall, authorities said.

The Bronco ricocheted off the 3,800-pound patrol car, spun into traffic and caught fire after Ellsworth escaped. The accident closed the bridge to Tampa-bound traffic for nearly four hours.

Ellsworth probably will be charged with careless driving, said Lt. Harry Mofield, a Highway Patrol spokesman.

His father said other cars kept Ellsworth from merging to the left to avoid the cruiser, which was parked slightly over the line in traffic.

"He did not see the trooper's car," said Fred Ellsworth, Christopher's father. "It was that simple. He said he looked at the sideview mirror just before the accident. The instant he looked back was too late."

Ellsworth, who had back surgery three months ago after a boating injury, moved with his family from San Francisco to St. Petersburg about three years ago to be closer to coaches and members of the U.S. sailing team. Ellsworth, who suffered facial cuts, was on his way to Tampa to coach sailing classes.

The first 911 call came in at 12:09 p.m. A few miles away, Kevin Hull, a Sunstar paramedic training officer, heard about the accident over the police scanner mounted in the Ford Explorer he was driving.

He was on his way to St. Petersburg to complete some administrative duties but knew he was the closest paramedic to the accident. Following a trooper, Hull muscled through the traffic.

He grabbed medical supplies from the back of the truck. A paramedic for 14 years, he was stunned to see the trooper folded behind her car. Her black boot had been ripped from her foot and was wedged in front of the car.

As the first paramedic on the scene, Hull consoled Hawkins while preparing an IV, giving her oxygen and checking for internal bleeding.

"When I'm training, I always say minutes can seem like hours," Hull said of the 10 minutes he spent with Hawkins before other rescue vehicle could make it through the traffic. "She never cried or anything. She was brave."

The accident happened after Crawford, a 1996 graduate of Gibbs High School, called for a trooper, concerned he would get hit by a passing motorist as he changed the driver's side, rear tire. His car fit into the tight, 6-foot emergency lane, but the trooper's patrol car did not.

Hawkins told Crawford to get to work on his tire and activated her emergency lights.

Working with the Highway Patrol was the first law enforcement job for Hawkins, one of 170 female troopers in the state. Her attitude won praise from her supervisors, Mofield said.

"She's always willing to work extra hours or bad shifts," he said, adding that she often volunteers for DUI squads and other special assignments. "She leads her squad in proactive law enforcement."

Hawkins' parents are flying in from Indiana, and the Highway Patrol plans to pay for their motel stay and station a trooper outside Hawkins' hospital room around the clock. A trust fund will be opened for Hawkins today.

Crawford was treated at a hospital and released. He suffered injuries to his knee and shoulder. Crawford's 1968 Beetle is totaled, the engine smashed about eight inches into the car. He said his parents would drive him to Bayfront this weekend to check on Hawkins.

"I don't feel the accident was my fault," he said. "But I do feel I was partly responsible because she could possibly lose her legs because I had a flat tire."

_ Researcher Kitty Bennett and information from Times files contributed to this report.

Bridge accident

Here are the events that led to Thursday's accident on the Howard Frankland Bridge:

1. Highway Patrol Trooper Deborah K. Hawkins pulled over behind a car in the northbound (eastbound) emergency lane, on the right side of the highway.

2. Hawkins got out of her cruiser, which was parked with its wheels slightly into the highway, and stood between her cruiser and the disabled Volkswagen, which had a flat rear, driver's side tire. The driver was in the process of changing it and Hawkins offered to give him cover.

3. Hawkins noticed an eastbound Ford Bronco drifting toward her car. She ran toward the bridge railing just before the Bronco smashed her cruiser, pushing it into the Volkswagen, then pinning Hawkins against the rail of the bridge.

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