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    Crash injures two, closes causeway

    Rescue workers have to tear into the crumpled vehicles to remove the drivers, who are flown to Bayfront Medical Center.

    [Times photos: Jim Damaske]
    A smashed pickup truck sits off the Courtney Campbell Parkway in Clearwater after an accident Friday injured two men and closed the road for more than 4 hours.

    By BRIAN MOORE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 26, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- Stephen Bennett was heading home from work Friday morning, cruising the Courtney Campbell Parkway at about 55 mph when, without warning, a Ford Mustang about a quarter-mile in front of him began swerving.


    Graphic:
    How the accident happened

    A truck had cut in front of it, so the Mustang's driver had jerked his steering wheel to avoid it. The Mustang weaved left and right a couple of times before careening into the westbound lane, where it slammed head-on into a Ford pickup truck.

    Debris flew everywhere. Cars, trying to avoid the wreckage, pulled off the road. Bennett steered clear of the wreckage and parked his van. He got out and ran to the truck, frantically punching 911 into his cell phone. He got a busy signal but noticed that bystanders were calling, too.

    When he reached the truck, he found Mark Allen Krieger, 41, of Dover inside.

    "He was complaining about his leg," Bennett said. "He said, "My leg is trapped. Help me get my leg out.'

    "I looked down and said, "We're not going to be able to get the door open. Your foot is pinned. You're going to have to wait for emergency equipment.' "

    photo
    Rescuers load a victim of Friday's crash into a Bayflite helicopter for the trip to Bayfront Medical Center in downtown St. Petersburg.
    Firefighters and police officers arrived in force within minutes of the crash. They tore into the truck with their equipment. Krieger's legs were wedged between a crumpled dashboard and the truck's floorboard. His head was bleeding.

    Nearby, workers surrounded the Mustang, driven by Richard Jennings, 25, of Clearwater. He was leaning on his right side. His deflated air bag hung from the steering wheel. Rescuers tore the door off and pulled Jennings out within five minutes, said Jim Fogarty, a deputy chief for Clearwater's fire department.

    Both Jennings and Krieger were flown to Bayfront Medical Center with what rescue workers thought were life-threatening injuries. But by Friday evening, Krieger was listed in fair condition. Jennings would not allow the hospital to release his condition, but a spokeswoman said his injuries were not life-threatening.

    According to police and witnesses, here's how the accident unfolded:

    Just after 9 a.m., Stanley Upchurch, 69, of Clearwater pulled out from a beach portion of the causeway and tried to cross two eastbound lanes so that he could head into the westbound lane toward Clearwater, authorities said.

    But he wasn't fast enough. While attempting to avoid Upchurch's truck, Jennings, who was driving east in his Mustang, swerved into the westbound lane. He hit the truck, pushing it off the road into a bed of flowers in front of a "Welcome to Clearwater" road sign.

    "It looked like a . . . tornado hit," said a witness, Michael Wood. "I wanted to warn that car so bad because I could see what was going to happen. But there wasn't anything I could do."

    Rescuers tore the roof off Krieger's truck to remove him. They cut the door off the Mustang to get to Jennings. Cars backed up in the west and eastbound lanes. Those stuck in traffic were forced to turn around and head back.

    It took more than two hours to clear the westbound lanes. Officers reopened both sides of the road at 1:15 p.m.

    Clearwater police Lt. Steve Burch said officers still are working to determine whether charges will be filed in the accident.

    Upchurch would not talk to a reporter.

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