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Four people injured in head-on crash

Sheriff's deputies say a Homosassa man crossed the center line on Venable Drive and ran into a pickup truck.

By ALEX LEARY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2001


CRYSTAL RIVER -- A Homosassa man who sheriff's deputies said was on the wrong side of Venable Drive Friday night drove head-on into a pickup truck, injuring himself and three others, including an 8-year-old girl.

James Reid Stemler, 32, of 10330 W Yulee Drive, was driving his Jeep Cherokee toward U.S. 19 shortly before 10 p.m. when he collided with a Ford driven by Polly Hilgert, 42, of Crystal River.

Citrus County sheriff's deputies took a blood sample to determine if Stemler was under the influence but the results had not yet been released.

Reached at his business Saturday morning, Stemler said "no comment" when asked if he had been drinking. He said he was on the wrong side of the road because he dropped a cigarette on the floor and was trying to find it.

The accident occurred in front of Florida Power's nuclear training center.

"We hit each other so hard that my seat belt fractured all my ribs," Stemler said in the interview, adding that his air bag did not work. His passenger, whose name was not released, also was injured.

Hilgert is in stable condition at Seven Rivers Community Hospital. The girl's identity also was not released, but a sheriff office's spokeswoman said she suffered a major cut to her left eye. She was transferred to Shands at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

Lance Noland, 18, was driving behind Hilgert when the accident occurred and was the first person on the scene. He said he and another man pried open the door of the Ford and tried to calm Hilgert.

"She was like, "What happened, what happened?' She had no idea what was going on," Noland said, adding that he then went to check on the people in the Jeep.

He said Stemler was conscious but dazed and wondered aloud who smashed his window. Noland said Stemler then tried to start the Jeep. "He said, "Shut the door, I want to leave.' "

No charges have been filed, deputies said, but the accident still is under investigation.

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