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Road trip to Gator game detours through hospital

A car crash doesn't keep Citrus fans away from the championship.

By The Gainesville Sun
Published January 10, 2007


A near- head-on crash with a driver accused of drunken driving in Texas could not keep four Gator fans - three of whom have Citrus County ties - from continuing their trek to the national championship in Arizona.

After a detour through a hospital emergency room near Junction, Texas, University of Florida student Nissa Stuart (Citrus High School Class of 2003); her fiance, UF graduate Alexis Otero (CHS Class of 2000); and their friends UF students Brittany Vitter (CHS Class of 2003) and Kent Houghtaling hitched a ride with an emergency room nurse to see an eye specialist.

Then they persuaded Houghtaling's dad to drive them the rest of the way to Arizona.

"After the wreck, there was no need for us to talk it over. We all wanted to keep going, and so we did," said Stuart in a phone interview with the Sun from Arizona.

Otero was at the wheel of Stuart's 2005 Honda CRV when the crash happened about 6 a.m. Saturday, one day after the group left Gainesville.

Otero said he swerved to avoid a car going the wrong way on a one-way road. The other driver apparently swerved, too, and wound up sideswiping the Honda.

"We spun around about three times but landed on a hill, so that kept us from rolling over," Stuart said.

In addition to being arrested on a drunken driving charge, the driver of the other vehicle was also arrested on an outstanding drunken driving warrant.

Stuart, 22, had been sleeping in the back seat of the Honda and wound up with a whiplash. Vitter, 22, was also sleeping in the back seat, and doctors told her that she had a fractured bone in her face.

Houghtaling, 23, the front-seat passenger, was badly bruised. Otero, 24, who recently graduated with a degree in food science and human nutrition, was sent to an eye specialist 45 miles east of the hospital because so many glass fragments were in his face and eyes.

A nurse who had been called in to help in the emergency room when the four arrived offered to drive Otero and his friends to the specialist.

Houghtaling's dad, Stewart, another UF graduate, lived less than six hours away.

The elder Houghtaling set aside his plans for the weekend to drive the four to Arizona, then decided to stay with a friend and try to scrounge up a ticket for himself.

"He understood when we told him we really wanted to get to the game," Stuart said.

Stuart's mom, Inger, who lives in Inverness and is a 1978 UF graduate, said as soon as she heard that her daughter and the others were okay, she knew they would continue on to the game.

"I started going to Gator games when I was 12, and I am 50 now, so she was raised to be that way," Inger Stuart said of her daughter. "Some people may think it's crazy, but we understood it."

Citrus Times editor's note: This story was originally published Monday. All four Gator fans are okay and made it to the big game.

[Last modified January 10, 2007, 18:18:52]

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