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    Driver says blackout caused crash into fire station

    By KATHERINE GAZELLA

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 8, 2001


    TARPON SPRINGS -- Michael Venezia doesn't remember much about his drive Sunday morning. He recalls feeling a "weird sensation," then losing control of the car.

    The 19-year-old blacked out while driving his parents' 1995 Toyota Camry on Gulf Road. He doesn't remember driving across a church lawn, breaking a water main and ramming Tarpon Springs Fire Station 70, which caused more than $20,000 in damage.

    Venezia was driving home at about 8:30 a.m. Sunday after spending the night at a friend's house. He said he has never had blackouts or seizures before, and he doesn't know what caused the incident Sunday morning.

    "I just got this weird sensation, and I blacked out," said Venezia, who attends St. Petersburg Junior College. "I got out of the car, and I blanked out again."

    Luckily, help was close by. Paramedics from the fire station ran to help Venezia, and he was flown to Bayfront Medical Center. He was released Sunday afternoon and said he was feeling better Monday.

    Deputy fire Chief Kevin Bowman said the crash pushed back some of the concrete blocks in the building on Gulf Road, which is east of Tarpon Springs High School.

    Because of damage to an above-ground water main, water service was not restored for several hours, Bowman said. The crash demolished a flag pole outside the fire station, he said.

    "We go to cars versus buildings all the time, but it usually doesn't affect us directly," Bowman said.

    - Staff writer Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182.

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