Rescue workers spent several hours Wednesday trying to pull the bodies of three women from a crumpled Mercury Grand Marquis after it was hit by a 10-ton truck.
The impact of the 1:15 p.m. crash left the Mercury in a tangle under the front of the Southern Septic & Sewer truck. The accident shut down east- and westbound lanes of County Road 674 on either side of the Interstate 75 overpass for the rest of the afternoon.
Killed were Amy Creason, 32, of Fairburn, Ga., Janice Creason, 48, of McDonough, Ga., and Cleo Broome, 66, of 1721 Meridian St. in Ruskin.
Truck driver James K. Scheffler, 73, of Ruskin, an employee of Southern Septic & Sewer in Ruskin, was not injured and had not been charged as of Wednesday, according to Hillsborough sheriff's Lt. Willie Lee Parker.
But sheriff's officials are still investigating the crash and the possibility that Scheffler did not stop at a stop sign, Parker said. At this point, investigators don't think alcohol or drugs were a factor, Parker said.
According to Parker, Scheffler had been driving north on I-75 with an unidentified passenger when he got off at the CR 674 ramp, the exit for Sun City Center to the east and Ruskin to the west.
Scheffler was turning left to go west on busy CR 674, but as he passed through the eastbound lane, he hit the front passenger's side of the Mercury, which was heading east on CR 674.
Scheffler's passenger was not injured.
Parker said it's still not clear whether Scheffler obeyed the stop sign at the off ramp and CR 674. Investigators think the woman driving the Mercury was observing the 50 mph speed limit.
The impact left the gray Mercury almost unrecognizable, and killed the driver and her two female passengers "very quick, very fast," Parker said. He called it one of the worst crashes he had ever seen.
Sheriff's deputies cordoned off the site, and kept southbound cars on I-75 from exiting to Sun City Center. Traffic was blocked for five hours at the scene of the wreck.
Dee Reid passed by the Mercury and the truck at 1:16 p.m., before the full convoy of sheriff's cars and rescue vehicles arrived.
"All I saw was tangled metal," said Reid, who was heading home to Sun City Center after a few hours of shopping at Bealls. "I wouldn't have known it was a car."
A couple of hours after the accident, Reid walked Tiger, her Yorkshire terrier, along 674, trying to find out more about what happened.
When she learned that the victims were not elderly Sun City Center residents, as she had presumed, she shook her head.
"They were young?" Reid said. "Oh, no."
According to the Sheriff's Office, there were 152 crashes at I-75 and CR 674 from January 2002 to March 2003, making it the No. 4 crash site in Hillsborough. In June, there were 10 accidents at the intersection, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Scheffler, who is licensed to drive a tractor-trailer and vehicles with hazardous materials aboard, has traffic citations dating to 1990, according to Florida motor vehicle records.
Since 1998, he has been found guilty of driving with improper equipment, operating a vehicle under unsafe conditions and failing to properly display his tag in Polk and Monroe counties, according to his driving history.
As Hillsborough fire rescue workers continued the task of removing the women's bodies Wednesday, Scheffler remained nearby, answering investigators' questions.
_ Times staff writers Jay Cridlin and Janet Zink and staff researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 661-2443 or svansicklersptimes.com.
The crash Wednesday afternoon rendered the Mercury Grand Marquis a heap of metal at the front of a Southern Septic & Sewer truck. Traffic on County Road 674 at the Interstate 75 exit was blocked for five hours.
1. A 10-ton boom truck is exiting I-75 at CR 674, attempting to cross through a median to head west on CR 674.
2. As the truck tries to cross, it hits an eastbound Mercury Marquis with three women inside.
3. The impact crushes the car. Both vehicles end up on north side of 674.