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Two remain hospitalized in I-75 crash

By Staff | Jul 2, 2013

At least two people remained hospitalized Tuesday following a fatal accident on Interstate 75.

At about 9:37 a.m. Sunday, a LARC van headed northbound on I-75 blew a tire north of Jacaranda Boulevard in Sarasota County, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. The driver, Johniece F. Diaz, 28, of Cape Coral, lost control, and the van veered across the northbound lanes before overturning.

One of the passengers in the van, Georgianna Bennett, 44, of North Fort Myers, was killed in the accident, along with another passenger, who authorities had not yet identified as of Tuesday.

Diaz, along with the five remaining passengers, were transported to area hospitals with injuries.

Roger Bradley, executive director of LARC – serving people with developmental disabilities – explained Tuesday that the van was one of two taking participants to a summer camp in Apoka.

“The other van was full of clients from our Cape Coral group home,” he said, adding that the second van made it safely to the camp. “They are unaware of what has happened to their compatriots.”

Diaz, who was taken to Blake Medical Center with serious injuries following the crash, was being treated at Tampa General Hospital as of Tuesday. Passenger Amy Plant, 48, of North Fort Myers, was being treated at Blake Medical Center, where she was taken Sunday with reported critical injuries.

Bradley reported Tuesday that two were expected to be released and two more had been discharged.

“Things are getting a little bit better each day,” he said.

Passengers Jami J. Curran, 31, of the Cape, and Jerry Hill, 55, of North Fort Myers, was taken to Venice Regional Medical Center with serious injuries after the accident, the FHP stated. James Funk, 72, and Lester Krueger, 34, both of North Fort Myers, were taken to Doctors Hospital of Sarasota.

Funk had reportedly sustained minor injuries, while Krueger’s injuries were listed as serious.

Bradley reported that the unidentified, second fatality was a 72-year-old woman.

“We’re almost 100 percent certain she does not have any living relatives at all, but the FHP wants to research it further,” he said, referring to notifying next of kin before releasing the victim’s name.

The women who died were roommates in North Fort Myers, served by LARC for 20-plus years.

“They have lived there for quite some time,” he said. “They were like family to us.”

“People here are shocked and upset,” Bradley added.

The organization has been trying to work through everything since he got the phone call Sunday.

“The vans, both of them, were inspected and reviewed by two levels of staff here at LARC,” he said. “A third component to that was they were inspected by a local commercial mechanic shop.”

The van involved in the accident had a right rear tire replaced just days before the trip, along with a routine oil change, windshield wiper replacement and replacement of the windshield wiper pump.

“We only know there was a loud pop underneath the carriage of the van, and it began to skid and the woman lost control,” Bradley said. “We’ve not had an opportunity to really interview anybody.”

He could not recall another accident with such tragic consequences during his 28 years as director.

“You try to be as prudent as you can be, and then something still happens,” Bradley said. “That’s hard for all of us to take here.”

The crash remains under investigation.