Driver laments loss of 2 friendsBy LEANORA MINAI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 11, 2002
ST. PETE BEACH -- It had been raining all day, so Aldona Cesna suggested to friends that they postpone the birthday dinner for Elena Bakutis, an avid gardener who was turning 91.
But everyone wanted to go.
"We're not made of sugar," said Janina Meiliene, 64, the older woman's caretaker. "We won't melt."
Carrying a thick bouquet of pink and white carnations, Cesna picked up Bakutis, Meiliene and another woman and drove to Red Lobster, where they celebrated Bakutis' big day.
"She showed tears of happiness," said Cesna, 72.
On Tuesday, Cesna was the one crying.
On the way home from dinner, Cesna got into a car accident at 4:45 p.m. in St. Pete Beach. Bakutis and Meiliene, who was from Lithuania, were killed.
"I feel sorry," said Cesna, who is also Lithuanian.
Cesna was driving her Toyota Camry south on Gulf Boulevard with Bakutis, Meiliene and another friend, Ruta Bamdziukas, 64. Bamdziukas of Seminole was injured in the back seat, but she is expected to recover.
In the rain, Cesna made a left turn on 44th Avenue, the entrance to Belle Vista, where Bakutis and Meiliene lived together. Cesna turned into the path of a Dodge Caravan that was traveling north in the right lane of Gulf Boulevard.
Stephanie Kitral, 51, the driver of the Caravan, struck the right side of the Camry. Kitral of Treasure Island was not injured.
Cesna said the traffic light was green, and the Caravan looked far away, so she made the turn. Motorists turning left on 44th Avenue off Gulf Boulevard can also wait for a green arrow.
"I was turning and the next thing was just 'bang, bang,' and my car was facing the other way," Cesna said. "I feel terrible."
Cesna said Bakutis lived in St. Pete Beach since 1973, when she moved with her husband, Stanley, from Chicago. He died two years ago.
Over the past several months, Meiliene, a friend from Lithuania, had been taking care of Bakutis, who invited friends to pick fruit off her lemon, grapefruit and orange trees.
"She was just a real nice lady," said neighbor Pam Chamberlain. "She was always outside and said hello to everybody."
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