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    1 family's loss in crash climbs to 3

    A man who also recently lost his twin brother dies six days after his wife and a son were killed instantly.

    By MIKE BRASSFIELD

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published July 22, 2001


    ST. PETERSBURG -- Born five minutes apart, the identical twins died within 16 days of each other.

    St. Petersburg pharmacist Ron Carmichael, 47, died Friday of injuries from a car crash last weekend that also killed his wife and one of their two sons.

    They were driving home from a camping trip two days after attending a funeral for Carmichael's twin brother, Don, who died July 4 in Venice.

    The twins' lives were intertwined from beginning to end. They went to the same college, became pharmacists, and moved to Florida within a year of each other. Now their family has lost four members in 16 days.

    "You don't understand how precious life is until someone is taken from you," said Don Carmichael's fiancee, Betsie Van Vyven of Sarasota. "Every day is a gift. You never know who may not come home."

    Ron Carmichael; his wife, JoAnn, 49; and their 14-year-old son, Mark, all died as a result of a July 14 accident on Interstate 75 near Ocala.

    The sole survivor was the Carmichaels' older son, 15-year-old Matthew, a student at St. Petersburg Catholic High School.

    The family's 1996 Ford Explorer rolled over twice when a rear tire ripped apart on I-75, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

    They were all wearing seat belts. But JoAnn and Mark Carmichael, riding in the back, were thrown from the sport utility vehicle and died instantly.

    Ron Carmichael, who was in the front passenger seat, lived for six days before dying in an Ocala hospital.

    Matthew, the survivor, was at the wheel. He has a learner's permit, allowing him to drive with an adult. Rescuers cut him out of the SUV, and he was treated at a Gainesville hospital.

    "The wreck appears to be the direct result of tire failure," said FHP Capt. Jeff Succi.

    The tire that ripped apart, a Baja Widetrack radial made by Bridgestone/Firestone, was not one of the models that has been recalled. The federal government urged the tire manufacturer to replace all Baja Widetracks last year, but the company refused.

    Ron Carmichael's death raises to 44 the number of people killed in Florida since 1997 in SUVs that had Firestone tires. Fourteen were in vehicles equipped with Firestone tires not recalled and still on the road -- tires that may have the same flaws that caused tread separations on those recalled last year, a St. Petersburg Times analysis shows.

    Ford and Firestone are feuding about which company should be held responsible for scores of deadly accidents across the nation. A federal database shows at least five other crashes involving Baja Widetrack radials.

    The Carmichaels had lived in St. Petersburg's Pinellas Point neighborhood for at least a decade.

    "They were a friendly family who got along with everybody," said Jolanda Jordan, who lived across the street from them. "Their boys were very well-mannered and were raised properly. They had three dogs they loved. They're going to be missed."

    Ron Carmichael was a pharmacist at Walgreens at 945 62nd Ave. S. His wife was a respiratory therapist. Neighbors described both teens as honor roll students and computer whizzes who surfed and played soccer and street hockey.

    "Ron was a good guy. He was really into doing things with his family," said Van Vyven, Don Carmichael's fiancee. "Ron and Don did stuff with their kids together. They were alike in a lot of ways, but they had their different personality traits."

    Ron Carmichael was born five minutes before Don in Rocky Mount, N.C. The twins both graduated with pharmacy degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

    In 1982, a year after Ron Carmichael moved to Fort Myers, his twin moved to Sarasota.

    "I think if I would have moved to Costa Rica, about a year later he would have said, "Well, Costa Rica's okay, I guess,' " Ron Carmichael said earlier this month after his brother's death.

    On July 4, as Don Carmichael's fiancee waited for him to get home from work so they could watch fireworks, the hospital pharmacist died alone in a bathroom at Bon Secours-Venice Hospital.

    Carmichael's body wasn't discovered until the next evening, after his fiancee repeatedly called police to report that he was missing. Preliminary autopsy results found that he died of heart disease.

    Don Carmichael's funeral was July 12. Ron Carmichael's family had their accident two days later.

    - Staff writer Amy Wimmer and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune contributed to this report.

    Recent coverage

    Deadly combination: Ford, Firestone and Florida (May 20-21, 2001)

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