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Wrecks in Hillsborough claim 3 lives


© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 31, 2001

TAMPA -- One was drag racing. One lost control of his sport utility vehicle. Another drove into the path of another car.

Four different car crashes have killed three people and injured four in the past week in northwest Hillsborough County.

All but one crash involved teenagers, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

On Friday at 8:20 p.m., deputies said 18-year-old Colby Gardner died after apparently drag racing with two other vehicles. Gardner of 3310 Grace St. in Tampa was driving his 1993 Honda Accord east on Waters Avenue. He lost control of the car and struck the center median, causing the car to spin into the westbound lanes.

A Dodge Caravan driven by Deborah Panzino, 49, of 6716 Village Grove Court, struck Gardner's car on the driver's side, deputies said. Gardner died at the scene. Panzino was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital for treatment. A passenger in Gardner's car, David Ayow, 18, of 3819 Tudor Court, No. 215, Tampa, was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital with serious injuries.

The drivers of the two cars racing with Gardner fled the scene.

On Saturday, Savannah Pinkham, 17, was driving a 1985 Volkswagen on Westwind Drive near Sheldon Road. Deputies said she violated the right of way, which caused Jennifer Wichelm, 18, of 9516 W Hamilton Ave., Tampa, to hit Pinkham's car on the driver's side.

Pinkham suffered a broken neck and multiple internal injuries, said deputies. Pinkham, of 14833 Sassandra Drive, Odessa, was taken to St. Joseph's after the 12:40 a.m. crash. No information was available about Wichelm, who was driving a 2001 Kia.

On Sunday, Kenneth McClendon, 37, was driving south on Race Track Road in his Isuzu pickup truck when he crossed the center lane and struck Patricia Welch, who was driving north in her Chevrolet.

The head-on crash killed McClendon, of 21354 Snook Circle in Land O'Lakes. Welch, of 12402 Slow Poe Lane, Odessa, was taken to Town & Country Hospital with minor injuries.

Just before 12:30 Tuesday morning, an 18-year-old man lost control of his Ford Explorer, sideswiped a utility pole and struck a large tree on Sinclair Hills Road. The SUV then burst into flames, deputies said.

The driver, who has not been publicly identified by authorities, died in the vehicle.

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