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Buddies survive to find one missing

By AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 5, 2000


BRANDON -- As his car sank into a retention pond, Brandon Edgar's thoughts turned as murky as the dark water swiftly spilling onto his lap.

He said he doesn't remember squeezing out the window of his 1995 Toyota Corolla or his three friends clambering out from the back seat to safety or what happened to his best friend who'd been riding beside him.

But two of the others say they recall 14-year-old Nick Hastings frantically struggling to open the passenger side door in the seconds after Sunday's crash.

"I don't know if he couldn't get his seat belt off and was freaking, or what," said Jason Waldrop, 14, a classmate of Hastings at Rodgers Middle School.

"I was just trying to get out and save my life from drowning."

As were they all, three of the four survivors said Monday. They said they are saddened about their friend's death and puzzled why he, too, did not escape the flooding car.

"The way they made it look was that I abandoned him," Edgar, 18, said of news reports about the incident.

"We didn't know that he was still in there," Edgar said. "Anybody who knows me knows how I feel about Nick and that I never would have left him."

Two hours after the crash, sheriff's divers found Hastings still strapped in his seat belt, the car's roof barely visible in the retention pond off Falkenburg Road. An autopsy Monday afternoon confirmed he had drowned.

Edgar is charged with leaving the scene of an accident with death. He is free on $7,500 bail. The accident remains under investigation and results of a blood-alcohol test are pending.

Edgar said Monday that he had not been driving drunk.

"I hadn't had anything to drink in hours," he said. "I was not intoxicated."

Chris Hastings, Nick's older brother, said his family does not blame Edgar, or anyone, for the death of his brother, known as Pee Wee.

"I have no resentment for anybody," Hastings said. "Right now the most important thing is that we have Brandon because he is the closest thing to Pee Wee."

The carload of friends -- Edgar, Hastings, Waldrop and his brother Kevin, 16, and Ryan Boyle, 16 -- had been out cruising and were headed to a bowling alley. Boyle and the Waldrop brothers all live in Gibsonton. They were westbound on Palm River Road about 1 a.m., deputies said, when Edgar ran a stop sign.

Sonia Barroso, 20, of Brandon was southbound on Falkenburg Road and couldn't stop in time. Her car hit Edgar's in the passenger side.

Edgar's Toyota went into the pond, but neither Barroso nor deputies who first responded to the accident realized that. It wasn't until later, when Edgar and his friends met back up and didn't find Hastings, that they went to deputies, who returned to the scene.

Barroso, who was slightly injured in the crash, said that after her car stopped she began calling for help to a man who emerged from the shadows, only to see him run away.

Edgar, a Hillsborough Community College student who lives in Riverview, said he remembered seeing Barroso but did not stop because she appeared to be crazy.

"I remember some lady screaming, and it scared the crap out of me," he said, so he kept walking.

"I was incoherent and didn't know what was going on," Edgar said.

Kevin Waldrop said Monday he glimpsed Hastings as the water poured into the car.

"I remember seeing Nick freaking out in the front seat," Waldrop said, and shaking his head rapidly, as if in a panic.

He said they rolled down the manual windows and escaped out the openings.

Kevin Waldrop said the next thing he remembers is being halfway down the street, soaked and shivering, heading to a nearby motel to call a friend for help.

Edgar and Boyle, who also fled and called someone for a ride, would later regroup with the Waldrop brothers at their grandparents' Gibsonton home, where they realized Hastings was missing.

"As soon as we sat down and said what happened, everybody thought it was a big old dream," Kevin Waldrop said.

Meanwhile, Justin Waldrop, 19, had seen Edgar and Boyle at his grandparents' home yet could not find his brothers, who arrived later. Worried, he drove to the scene; and when he did not see the car, he went to the sheriff's office in Brandon to report the accident.

That's when divers found Hastings.

-- Times reporter Michael Sandler contributed to this report.

Safety tips

What should you do if your vehicle winds up in deep water? Experts suggest:

Stay calm.

Release your seat belt.

Open the windows, preferably while the car is still afloat. Depending on the vehicle, that could be a few seconds or as long as four minutes.

If you can't get the window down, let the car fill up with water to equalize the pressure.

Take a breath from the air pocket near the ceiling.

Then, try to open the door or roll down the window.

Quickly swim out.

If damage prevents a door from opening, and electric windows won't go down, try to dislodge the rear window from its frame by pushing with your feet or a shoulder.

If you drive often near water, consider carrying tools for breaking glass, such as a hammer or center punch.

-- Information from the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute was used in this chart.

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