2 dead despite attempts to stop rampage
By ANGELA MOORE
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 21, 2001
MULBERRY -- With blood streaming down his face Tuesday afternoon, Eddie Dean Caldwell screamed that he was going to kill his wife.
Just minutes later, both were dead, crushed in the front seat of a car that didn't belong to them. They hit a bulldozer on the side of County Line Road in a wreck that witnesses said was no accident. Caldwell, 47, never hit the brakes.
Their final minutes played out in front of many stunned witnesses, motorists who watched 39-year-old Rachel King Caldwell run from her husband twice before he finally caught her in someone else's car.
Several people tried to help. Terry Kuhn, of Maurice's Wrecker Service, was the first.
Kuhn was northbound on County Line Road about 3 p.m. Tuesday and noticed a 1996 silver Mitsubishi Eclipse and a 1990 red Dodge Shadow pulled off on the east side of the road. Suddenly, a blond woman in a waitress uniform from Tony's Airside Restaurant walked into the middle of the road.
"It was either stop or run over her," Kuhn said.
Kuhn stopped, and Mrs. Caldwell jumped into the cab of his tow truck.
"She said she needed help, that she needed to get out of here because her husband was trying to hurt her," Kuhn said. As Kuhn locked the doors, Caldwell jumped on his front bumper and screamed at his wife to get out of the truck. Kuhn called his dispatcher on his radio and told them to dial 911. Mrs. Caldwell explained that her husband was upset because he had just been served with divorce papers and was worried about not being able to see his kids.
And then, unexpectedly, Caldwell drove away in the Dodge Shadow.
"When he left, that gave me a feeling that it was over, that he had gone home to cool down," Kuhn said. Kuhn parked his truck on the side of the road and went back to get Mrs. Caldwell's Eclipse for her. But as soon as he got back into his truck, he saw Caldwell in the Dodge Shadow coming south down County Line Road.
"He turned toward us and left the roadway, and there was that distinctive noise of a car on dirt and rocks," Kuhn said. "I knew at that point that he wasn't going to go away. He was going to run us over."
Other witnesses said Caldwell was going 60 mph when the Shadow slammed into the front passenger side of the tow truck. The impact knocked the right front wheel off the axle of the tow truck and sent Caldwell's head through the windshield of the small car. Neither Kuhn nor Mrs. Caldwell was injured. Steve Parker and his longtime girlfriend, Joy Merritt, were a couple of cars behind Caldwell on County Line Road when he rammed into the truck. They were dumbfounded.
"The way that car ran off the road, I knew that he intended to do what he did," Parker said.
Parker and Merritt watched as Mrs. Caldwell jumped from the truck and ran to the first car she saw, a Toyota Camry driven by Hoa Novotney of Tampa. Novotney let Mrs. Caldwell in as her husband followed, blood streaming from cuts around his face.
Kuhn heard Mrs. Caldwell screaming as her husband shouted that he was going to kill her.
Parker heard the screams and watched as Caldwell began punching his fist through one of the Camry's windows. Parker ran to help.
By then, Caldwell had already pried open the Camry's passenger door and pushed the driver, Novotney, out of the car. Parker said Caldwell was on top of his wife and had his arms around her neck. Parker grabbed her by the legs and tried to pull her out of the car.
"I was doing everything I could do," he said. "He just had hatred in his mind. He had a death grip on her."
Caldwell managed to put the car in reverse, knocking Parker down in the process, and sped off. About a mile up the road, the Camry veered to the right. Without slowing, it hit the front blade of a Caterpillar bulldozer, crushing the front of the car. Both the Caldwells were killed instantly.
Sterling Ivey, spokesman for the Polk County Sheriff's Office, said Mrs. Caldwell had just filed for an injunction against her husband, with whom she has three children, ages 24, 14 and 12. They lived in Mulberry in Polk County.
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