PALM HARBOR — A pickup truck driver ran into a firefighter while she was responding to a crash on U.S. 19, killing the driver and critically injuring the firefighter, Palm Harbor Fire Rescue said.
The crash happened just before 3:30 a.m. Wednesday in the northbound lanes of U.S. 19 at Innisbrook Drive. Two firetrucks had come to the scene in response to an earlier collision.
The driver of a GMC Denali pickup ran into the two firetrucks, then hit Fire Rescue Lt. Ashley White, 38, who was on foot, authorities said. The pickup also hit a fire hydrant before coming to rest. The driver of the Denali was identified only as a 26-year-old Ohio man.
The pickup driver was taken to Advent Health North Pinellas, where he later died, the Florida Highway Patrol said. A driver involved in the initial crash was taken to Advent Health with minor injuries.
White was taken to Bayfront hospital with a number of critical injuries. She underwent surgery to repair her left leg late Wednesday afternoon, Palm Harbor Fire Rescue said in a news release. White survived the six-hour surgery and was listed in stable condition, Fire Rescue reported in an update around 9:45 p.m. She will have to undergo multiple additional surgeries over the next few days, according to the release.
Around 4 p.m. Wednesday, about 30 people gathered outside The Centre in Palm Harbor, which houses the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency, to pray for White.
The agency’s director, Erica Lynford, and its vice chairperson, Kelli Snow, said they organized the vigil after they heard White had been critically injured. Snow, a Palm Harbor fire commissioner, says she’s known White for many years. And Lynford said she met White because the 38-year-old firefighter used to teach CPR classes at The Centre and White’s daughter attended camps there.
Palm Harbor fire Commissioner Julie Peluso said White was known for her kindness.
“She kept the guys all in line,” Peluso told the Tampa Bay Times. “She has a heart of gold. She has compassion that is very seldom seen in anybody. That’s why she is so good in her job.”
Troopers said they do not know why the pickup driver crashed, but they said he was traveling “at a high rate of speed.” The initial crash occurred after a car driven by a 53-year-old Tarpon Springs man was rear-ended by a 35-year-old Clearwater woman at a stoplight, authorities said.
Fire Chief Scott Sanford said in a news release Wednesday night that first responders immediately began performing life-saving measures on the pickup driver and White at the scene.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our members for the way they handled the situation,” he said in the release. “I am very appreciative of the communities outpouring of support for Lt. White and all of our members.”
Northbound lanes of U.S. 19 between Innisbrook Drive and Colonel Boulevard were shut down Wednesday morning and reopened around 9:40 a.m., the Highway Patrol said.
White has been with Palm Harbor Fire Rescue since 2008 and received a promotion to lieutenant in 2017. Those who wish to donate to White and her family can bring money or items to Station 65, 250 West Lake Road in Palm Harbor.