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Five hurt in U.S. 19 car crash

Authorities say a driver attempting to turn left onto Venable Drive started a four-car pileup Tuesday afternoon.

[Times photo: Steve Hasel]
Steven Speir, 17, is taken to a waiting helicopter Tuesday afternoon after he was freed from his mangled car after it flipped into a ditch following a four-car accident. Four others also were injured.

By ALEX LEARY

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 21, 2001


CRYSTAL RIVER -- A Crystal River teenager was rushed by helicopter to Tampa General Hospital Tuesday after a collision at U.S. 19 and Venable Drive that also injured four others.

The commotion apparently contributed to a second accident. Edward G. Valentine, a private pilot returning from Brooksville, said he became distracted by the accident scene below him and neglected to lower his landing gear, causing his Cessna 337 to slide on the runway at Crystal River Airport.

A sheriff's deputy said the vehicle accident occurred at about 1:30 p.m., when Arnold Bestul of Beverly Hills attempted to make a left turn from U.S. 19 onto Venable Drive.

At the same time, traffic traveling north on U.S. 19 began to proceed through the intersection.

A red Ford Torino driven by Steven Speir, 17, of Crystal River, smashed into Bestul's Kia, causing both cars to spin out of control, said Deputy Robby Bell.

The Ford hit a GMC truck, causing front-end damage, then flipped into a ditch at the southwest edge of the airport. The Kia spun around and struck a fourth vehicle driven by Mike Wade of Lecanto, who was uninjured.

Witnesses offered the same account. "The red car veered over to try to miss him," said Thomas Mann of Crystal River, one of the first people at the scene. "There was some tremendous flipping," Wade said.

Bestul, 77, and his passenger, Eleanor Mattar, 79, also of Beverly Hills, were taken to Seven Rivers Community Hospital but did not appear to be seriously injured.

Speir, meanwhile, was trapped inside his car for about a half hour as rescue workers worked to cut away the car's hood.

Two passengers also were hurt, though the extent of their injuries was unknown Tuesday. They were identified as Robert Speir, 13, and Nick Prever, 14, both of Crystal River.

A nursing supervisor at Seven Rivers said Bestul, Mattar, Speir and Prever were in stable condition. At Tampa General, a hospital official said Steven Speir was in fair condition.

Valentine, the Cessna pilot, said he became distracted after learning from radio dispatchers that the helicopter was approaching his air space. "They told me be aware of a helicopter that is coming up from the south," he said.

The flashing ambulance and police lights below were no help, he said, adding that he had trouble with his radio equipment. Valentine, 69, was not physically injured, "just my ego."

"He was just trying to be safe and clear and he forgot to put the gear down," said Gudi Lashbrook, a spokeswoman for the airport. "None of us are immune," to that mistake. "All you need is a distraction," she said.

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