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Driver dies after being trapped under water

People try but can not pull her from a pond after the crash in Brandon.

By CATHERINE E. SHOICHET and CASEY CORA, Times Staff Writers
Published August 24, 2007


BRANDON - Wearing their work clothes, they dove into the murky water where the red Mazda disappeared.

Seconds before, the car collided with a sport utility vehicle. The force sent it flying through the air into a pond, where it sank, taking the driver down with it.

"You couldn't see your hand in front of your face," said Nick Siczak, 18, of Largo. "I'd swim down, and I'd hold onto the mirror, and I would just swing at the window, and I just couldn't get anything."

Passers-by handed them tools to help. They tried to smash through the glass with a crowbar, a sledgehammer and a trailer hitch. They came up for air and then dove down again. A man from a neighboring apartment complex showed up with diving gear. But minutes passed and nothing worked.

"You could feel everything but you couldn't open anything," said Frank Hunter, 43, of Riverview. "It was like everything was jammed."

After rescue crews arrived, it took 11 minutes to remove Shelia Ulakovits Creel from the vehicle, Hillsborough Fire Rescue spokesman Ray Yeakley said.

The 46-year-old Gibsonton resident was taken via ambulance to Brandon Regional Hospital, where she died around 8:24 p.m., according to Deb McKell, hospital spokeswoman.

Creel had been underwater about 20 minutes while witnesses and rescue workers tried to save her, sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said.

"They did the best they could to get her out as quickly as possible, but she was down there awhile," sheriff's Sgt. Susan Bradford said.

Hillsborough County sheriffs divers also searched the 12-foot deep pond, Bradford said, and determined that there had been no passengers in the car.

Creel had been driving east on Providence Lakes Boulevard at 11:56 a.m. when she ran a stop sign, Carter said. A Ford Expedition, going north on Gornto Lake Road, crashed into Creel's car.

The driver of the SUV, Travis D. Clark, 34, of Riverview, was treated for minor injuries.

Five sheriff's deputies and five firefighters also went to a hospital for precautionary treatment after exposure to pond water, Bradford said. One firefighter was treated for a minor injury after cutting his finger on broken glass.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office closed the intersection for several hours Thursday afternoon while traffic homicide investigators evaluated the scene.

Carter said no charges had been filed, and the investigation was ongoing Thursday.

Hunter, a painter who lives nearby in Riverview, had been heading back from lunch with his wife, Nasly Hunter, 43, when he saw the crash.

"I could not believe that it went that far into the water like that," he said.

The Hunters said they see accidents at that intersection at least once a week. Gornto Lake Road is a through road without a traffic signal or stop sign. Traffic stops only on Providence Lakes Boulevard.

"It was a nightmare," Nasly Hunter said. "I've never seen an accident like that before. They need to install a light here."