St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Test drive wreck kills car's owner

A Tampa woman is killed while letting a prospective buyer drive her car. Her husband is left wondering how to carry on.

By LINDA GIBSON and LEANORA MINAI

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 17, 2001


TAMPA -- Joe Kolacki sat stunned and red-eyed Friday afternoon at the kitchen table of the South Tampa home he used to share with his wife, Stacy.

He had kissed her goodbye before leaving for work at 6 a.m. Later that morning, he got a message at work: Call the St. Petersburg police, your wife has been in an accident.

She had driven to ParkSide Mall in Pinellas Park to meet a man who wanted to test drive the 1991 Honda Accord she had advertised in AutoTrader magazine. Mrs. Kolacki, 42, had acquired a newer car and no longer needed the Honda. She'd gotten several inquiries about it.

After meeting William J. Smith on Friday morning, Mrs. Kolacki let him take the wheel of the Honda. They were traveling west on 70th Avenue, said Pinellas Park police Sgt. Sandy Forseth, when Smith tried to turn left onto 43rd Street.

Aubrey Smith, 22, was driving a 1978 Chevrolet Monte Carlo east on 70th Avenue. Her car struck Mrs. Kolacki's side of the Honda.

"The force of the impact basically killed her," Forseth said.

Mr. Kolacki, 42, had expected the day to be like any other. After he got home from work, Mrs. Kolacki would cook dinner for him and the two youngest of their four daughters, and then they'd spend the evening watching television. Maybe they'd talk about their plan to attend the Knight Parade in Ybor City on Saturday.

Friday afternoon, everything around him in the neat, pink and blue kitchen and dining area of the house in the Gandy Gardens neighborhood was just as his wife had left it that morning.

Yet nothing was the same.

"Pinch me, wake me up, get me out of this nightmare," Mr. Kolacki said. "My whole life has changed. I just don't know what to do."

Speeding was not a factor in the accident, police said, and no one has been charged. Investigators are trying to determine whether William Smith should be cited for making an improper turn.

William Smith's driving record shows two citations for accidents, three speeding tickets and one instance of driving without insurance.

Smith, 30, was in stable condition Friday evening at Bayfront Medical Center. He declined to be interviewed by the Times.

The Kolackis grew up in Tampa and were sweethearts at Robinson High School. They graduated in 1976 and married in 1979.

Mr. Kolacki works as a field foreman for a utilities construction company. Mrs. Kolacki had recently left a job as a manager at the Rio Bravo on N Dale Mabry Highway and was looking for a similar job. Meanwhile, she doted on her family and her three boxers, Hercules, Rocky and Sabal.

During their 22-year marriage, she always had boxers, her husband said.

She was a great cook. Family members who had gathered around Mr. Kolacki in the kitchen reeled off a list of her specialties: lasagna, spaghetti, Spanish bean soup, fish, goulash.

She is survived by her husband and daughters Dana, 15, Melissa, 20, and twins Heather and Leslie, 22; and three grandchildren.

Asked if he would want to meet William Smith, Mr. Kolacki shook his head.

"I don't know what I'd say to him," he said.

- Linda Gibson can be reached at (813) 226-3382 or at gibson@sptimes.com.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.