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2 teens hurt in crash; 1 remains in coma

The Highway Patrol says a Trans Am was speeding Monday when it hit a Toyota Camry on Belcher Road.

By NICK COLLINS
Published October 20, 2004

PALM HARBOR - Two teen-aged drivers were seriously injured Monday evening after a speeding Pontiac Trans Am crashed into a car making a left turn onto Belcher Road, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

The wreck occurred at 7:38 p.m. at Beacon Point Boulevard, north of Nebraska Avenue. Both drivers were flown to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

Tommy Rodriguez, 18, of Palm Harbor was ejected from his Toyota Camry in the collision, according to the Highway Patrol.

He suffered major head injuries, was in a coma and had not regained consciousness since the accident, his parents said late Tuesday afternoon. His injuries also included a broken right wrist and a broken right femur.

Rodriguez, who troopers said was not wearing a seat belt, was in critical condition Tuesday at Bayfront Medical Center.

Thomas W. Straub, 17, of Palm Harbor was identified by troopers as the driver of the Trans Am. He hurt his leg in the crash and had to be cut from the car by rescuers, said Lt. Darryl Neil of Palm Harbor Fire Rescue. He was in stable condition Tuesday at Bayfront.

The wreck took place when Straub's Trans Am struck the driver's side of Rodriguez's Camry. Rodriguez had just pulled out from a stop sign on Beacon Point Boulevard on the east side of Belcher.

The Trans Am was going north on Belcher faster than the posted speed of 45 mph, said Trooper Larry Coggins, a Highway Patrol spokesman. He could not say how much faster. An investigation could take a few weeks. No charges had been filed as of Tuesday.

Authorities ask anyone with information about the crash to contact Trooper Eileen Wells at (727) 570-5010, ext. 349.

Neither driver had any major infractions on his driving record.

The collision crumpled the front of Straub's car about 11/2 feet, Neil said. It pushed in the driver's side of Rodriguez's car about 21/2 feet.

"Both cars were completely destroyed," Neil said, adding that air bags were deployed in both vehicles. Straub was wearing a seat belt, troopers said.

When rescuers arrived at the scene, Rodriguez was lying in the road.

Rescuers found Straub pinned under the Trans Am's steering wheel. They used a carbon dioxide extinguisher to put out a fire in the car's engine, then used hydraulic cutters and electric saws to extricate him, Neil said.

Straub was taken to a helicopter via ambulance. He was airlifted because his injuries were serious, and while they were not immediately life-threatening, they had the potential to become so, Palm Harbor Fire Rescue spokeswoman Kristy Patterson said.

At the Straub home a few blocks north of H.S. "Pop" Stansell Park, a young woman who answered the door Tuesday afternoon said no one there would talk to a reporter.

A few miles away, in a neighborhood off County Road 1, Rodriguez's parents packed an overnight bag for a return trip to the hospital.

"They're trying to stabilize him," said Rodriguez's mother, Dianne Berman, 37, who works as a closing supervisor at a title company. Doctors have told the family that the first 72 hours are critically important.

Rodriguez is the oldest of four boys. He is a freshman at St. Petersburg College's Tarpon Springs campus and previously went to Tarpon Springs High School. He has worked for Domino's Pizza but recently switched jobs and went to work for a tree service to accommodate his class schedule.

"That's his two major things . . . work and school," said his father, Ron Berman, 42, an artist. He is interested in studying architecture and history.

Rodriguez was on his way home from a friend's house and was driving one of the family cars when he was hit. His parents described him as a cautious driver and were angry at how the accident took place.

"This was just totally useless for this to happen," Mrs. Berman said.

Rodriguez underwent surgery Monday night and remained in the intensive care unit Tuesday, according to his parents, who held out hope for his recovery.

"I just want my boy back," Ron Berman said.

Staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report. Nick Collins can be reached at ncollins@sptimes.com or 727 771-4307.

[Last modified October 20, 2004, 00:17:24]


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