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Her friend at a loss to explain fatal crash

An autopsy may shed light on why Betty Jane Chansler was weaving in and out of traffic before the accident.

By RYAN DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 17, 2001


HUDSON -- Betty Jane Chansler had her nails done Thursday afternoon at a beauty shop along U.S. 19.

She left the shop at 3:20 p.m., a lifelong friend said, and should have been back at her Wet Rock Row home by 3:30 p.m., maybe 3:35.

Instead, the 75-year-old Hudson woman was killed about 4 p.m. in a traffic accident, which she caused, on the other side of the county, the Florida Highway Patrol reported.

Chris Elliott, 74, who has been visiting her widowed friend for the past two months, was at a loss on Friday afternoon to explain why Chansler, whom she described as a careful driver, had sent cars swerving off the road along State Road 52 as she drove away from home.

"She didn't know where she was at or what she was doing," said Elliott, who has known Chansler since they were seventh-graders in Michigan.

The most logical explanation: the diabetes that afflicted Chansler for the past 30 years, her friend said.

But even that doesn't make sense, Elliott said.

She knows Chansler took her insulin that morning. She wasn't supposed to take it again until evening. And the two friends had just eaten at Wendy's.

Chansler had chicken fingers and french fries.

"Maybe she had a stroke or heart attack," said Elliott of Blakeslee, Pa.

An autopsy was scheduled to be completed by this afternoon, according to the Medical Examiner's Office in Largo.

She had a clean driving record in Florida, records show.

Somehow, on the way home from getting her nails done, Chansler ended up on Hays Road. Witnesses said she turned east onto SR 52 from Hays Road, whipping around a minivan in the median and forcing at least two cars off the road.

All the way across the county she zigged and zagged between the wrong lane and the grass on the right side of the road, said Jim O'Neil, who was driving near her car.

Two miles after she passed U.S. 41, while O'Neil was on hold with the Florida Highway Patrol trying to report a wild driver, she careened past his van on the right, he said. O'Neil slammed on his brakes. She cut in front of him and clipped the Buick riding ahead of him.

The two cars skidded down a grass embankment and flipped.

Chansler was killed when she was thrown from her car, which landed back on its wheels about 25 feet from the road, troopers said.

The other car's Ohio couple, 65-year-old Lois and 67-year-old William Chandler, were treated and released from St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Injuring them would have been a huge burden for her friend to bear, Elliott said.

"If she knew," Elliott said, "oh, she would be devastated."

- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Discuss this and other issues in our online discussion forum at http://www.sptimes.com/pascoforum.

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