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2 killed, 1 hurt in wreck on SR 54

Investigators say a Wesley Chapel woman drove through a red light and was broadsided by a sod truck, which then hit a cement truck.

Two people were killed and one person seriously injured in a violent crash Friday morning that began when a woman in a Honda Accord ran a red light and ended with a thunderous collision between a cement truck and a flatbed trailer laden with wet sod, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

The 7 a.m. crash at State Road 54 and Old Pasco Road killed the driver of the Honda, 62-year-old Iluminada Garcia Jimenez of Wesley Chapel, and the driver of the sod truck, 21-year-old Jesus Pena of Palmetto.

Jon D. Fidler, 43, of Hudson, the driver of the Mid Coast Concrete Co. truck, was flown to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, where he was in stable condition late Friday.

The two deaths bring to 53 the number of people killed on Pasco roads so far this year, and puts the county on a pace to shatter last year's total of 71 traffic fatalities, the highest since 1995, according to FHP figures.

Jimenez, a seamstress, left her house at 7624 Tallowtree Drive around dawn and headed south on Old Pasco Road, on her way to work in Tampa, said her daughter, Aydee Jimenez. The light at SR 54 was red, but she ran it, trying to make a left turn, FHP said.

Investigators didn't know how long the light had been red when Jiminez drove into the intersection.

Pena was driving west on SR 54 at about 30 mph, carrying a load of sod that was to be laid along the Suncoast Parkway, FHP said. He had no time to react and his truck broadsided Jimenez, crushing the driver's side of her 1988 white four-door sedan.

The impact, described by one witness as sounding like a "blown tire," spun the Honda 180 degrees and propelled it into the high grass on the north side of SR 54, FHP investigators said. Pena veered left into oncoming traffic and smashed head-on into the cement truck Fidler was driving.

"It was like a bomb going off," said Jesse Lebby, 35, an electrician who witnessed the crash from a construction site at the intersection. "It was nothing but steel, glass and steam on impact _ something you don't ever want to see again."

The damage was massive: The front ends of the trucks were crushed together, making it nearly impossible to decipher where the cabs had been.

Paramedics pronounced Pena dead on arrival.

"He was a wonderful nephew, a wonderful son, a wonderful father," Pena's aunt, Rose Cochran, said Friday afternoon. She said he had a 3-year-old daughter.

"He was always there for his family. He was very giving," Cochran said. "We're a very close-knit family and this has just devastated us."

Lebby said he ran to Jimenez's car and tried to comfort her as she mumbled and slipped in and out of consciousness.

"I told her, "Just hold on, the paramedics are on the way,' " he said.

Jimenez was airlifted to St. Joseph's, but doctors were unable to save her.

"She was a great mother and a great wife," said Aydee Jimenez. "She lived for her family."

Fidler had no life-threatening injuries. Adam Fidler, his 15-year-old son, said by telephone from the family's home in Hudson that both of his father's legs were fractured below the knee.

"It's a miracle," he said. "The circumstances . . . Man, that's a lot of weight colliding. That's, like, 80 tons."

He said the cement truck his father was driving weighed about 40 tons.

State records show that Jimenez was involved in a similar, but less serious accident 10 years ago.

According to a Florida Department of Motor Vehicles and Highway Safety report, Jimenez ran through a red light at a Tampa intersection and caused a three-car collision in 1989.

She was going 30 mph at that time, reports state, just like the truck that struck and killed her Friday. And just like Friday, it was a cloudy day, just after dawn, and Jimenez was traveling south, according to reports.

Jimenez suffered "incapacitating" injuries in that incident, the report said without elaborating. The other drivers were not injured.

Jimenez was cited for disregarding a traffic signal, but a judge withheld a finding of guilt.

"Things like that shouldn't be happening," Cochran, Pena's aunt, said. "This is a life here that's been taken, and it's not right for people to run a red light."

As investigators took measurements and interviewed witnesses Friday morning, an emergency management team cordoned off the scene with red tape and surveyed the environmental damage. About 450 gallons of diesel fuel and 75 gallons of hydraulic fluid had leaked into the ground, said Charles Tear, a coordinator with Pasco County's Office of Emergency Management.

Meanwhile, Calixto Pena, having just received word that his son had been in an accident, got in an empty flatbed truck and drove to the scene. With traffic backing up in both directions, he parked in the grass and ran to his son's body. When he saw the white sheet and lifeless body beneath it, he covered his face, threw back his head and began screaming.

Then he walked back to his truck, climbed into the cab and began sobbing.

"He was a good son, a hard worker," Calixto Pena said later. "He wanted to do something with his life."

_ Times researchers John Martin and Caryn Baird contributed to this report.