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Lives lost, shattered in two families

A fiery two-car collision on State Road 54 leaves two brothers and a woman dead and three severely injured, the boys' mother and two other children.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 4, 2001

NEW PORT RICHEY -- Anthony Zorbas, 10, always talked about becoming a veterinarian. His brother, Robert, 14, wanted to be a lawyer.

Both were good students at Christ the Lord Lutheran School in Clearwater.

Neither will get the chance to fulfill those dreams.

The brothers died in a fiery two-car crash Friday evening at State Road 54 and Old County Road 54, a busy intersection near the border of Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

Anne Marie DeMerie, 49, of New Port Richey, and a passenger in the other car, also died in the accident.

Three other people, including the boys' mother, Miqucalena Zorbas, were severely injured and remained in the hospital Saturday.

"Those boys were our world," said Bootsie Zullo, their maternal grandmother. "They were outgoing, polite, the nicest boys you could meet. We're not doing well at all. I don't think the reality has even hit us."

The only person to escape serious injury was Nicholas DeMerie, 53, the driver of the car investigators say caused the accident.

But he had another kind of pain to deal with Saturday, having lost his wife of almost 29 years and learning that two boys in the other car had died.

"It's devastating; I've never had an accident in my life," he said over the phone, between sobs. "I haven't slept. I know my wife is in a better place now.

"I feel bad for the other people, especially because it was kids. I would like them to know that I feel my loss, but I feel their loss, too."

DeMerie said he and his wife were returning home about 8:20 p.m. from a car show in New Port Richey, heading east on SR 54.

Miqucalena Zorbas had taken her boys and two family friends, Deziree Pozzi, 4, and Tabitha Brooks, 14, to explore the Wal-Mart supercenter that opened Wednesday at Little Road and SR 54. They were heading west.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers said DeMerie lost control of his 1995 Chevrolet Camaro and spun across the median and into the path of Zorbas' 1986 Chrysler LeBaron.

The right side of DeMerie's car slammed head-on into the LeBaron.

Within moments, emergency vehicles swarmed the scene, where the LeBaron already was on fire.

Seven ambulances and three fire engines arrived, as well as sheriff's deputies and FHP troopers. Four medical helicopters landed on a bridge spanning a nearby wetland and took off for area hospitals.

More than 60 onlookers pressed themselves against the crime scene tape, with another 100 gathered at the entrance of a mobile home park.

On Saturday, only sand and debris marked the scene of the previous night's violent accident.

Investigators said everyone was wearing seat belts. They said they don't suspect drugs or alcohol played a part in the accident, and no charges have been filed. DeMerie said the road was wet and slick from the evening dew and he simply lost control.

Miqucalena Zorbas, 36, underwent five hours of emergency surgery Friday night, said her mother-in-law, Adrienne Zorbas.

She said Miqucalena suffered a broken hip, ribs and an arm, and she had lacerations on her face. Doctors told her mother-in-law that Zorbas could be in the hospital a month and in a wheelchair up to four months.

Four-year-old Deziree was in a coma and possibly paralyzed from the neck down, Adrienne Zorbas said. And Tabitha suffered a broken leg, Zorbas said.

The families were left Saturday with trying to balance concern for the living and grief for the dead.

And no one had it tougher than Bobby Zorbas, who lost his two sons and could only pray that his wife was spared.

"My son's whole family is wiped out," said his mother, Adrienne Zorbas, fighting back tears. "He's taking it really bad. The whole thing is just terrible. It breaks my heart."

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