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Fund set up for LARC in wake of tragic crash

July 9, 2013
Staff Reports ( ) , Pine Island Eagle

A fund has been set up to aid a local not-for-profit that aids those with disabilities.

At about 9:37 a.m. last Sunday, a LARC van headed north on I-75 blew a tire north of Jacaranda Boulevard in Sarasota County, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. The driver, Johniece F. Diaz, 28, of Cape Coral, lost control, and the van veered across the northbound lanes before overturning.

One of the passengers in the van, Georgianna Bennett, 44, of North Fort Myers, was killed in the accident, along with another passenger, who authorities had not yet identified as of Monday because they still have not located next of kin..

At least a person remains hospitalized.

Diaz, along with the five remaining passengers, was transported to area hospitals with injuries.

She was expected to be released, according to Roger Bradley, executive director of LARC on Monday.

He explained that the van was one of two taking participants to a summer camp in Apoka.

"The other van was full of clients from our Cape Coral group home," he said, adding that the second van made it safely to the camp. "They are unaware of what has happened to their compatriots."

Diaz, who was taken to Blake Medical Center with serious injuries following the crash, was treated at Tampa General Hospital.

Passenger Amy Plant, 48, of North Fort Myers, was being treated at Blake Medical Center, where she was taken last Sunday with reported critical injuries.

"She's doing much, much better," said Bradley on Monday. "?She's alert, she's awake, she's interacting with hospital staff and with our staff who is up there."

Bradley said last week that two were expected to be released and two more had been discharged.

"Things are getting a little bit better each day," he said.

Passengers Jami J. Curran, 31, of the Cape, and Jerry Hill, 55, of North Fort Myers, were taken to Venice Regional Medical Center with serious injuries after the accident, the FHP stated. James Funk, 72, and Lester Krueger, 34, both of North Fort Myers, were taken to Doctors Hospital of Sarasota.

Funk had reportedly sustained minor injuries, while Krueger's injuries had been listed as serious.

Bradley reported that the unidentified, second fatality was a 72-year-old woman.

"We're almost 100 percent certain she does not have any living relatives at all, but the FHP wants to research it further," he said, referring to notifying next of kin before releasing the victim's name.

The women killed were roommates in North Fort Myers, served by LARC for 20-plus years.

"They have lived there for quite some time," he said. "They were like family to us."

"People here are shocked and upset," Bradley added.

The organization has been trying to work through everything since he got the phone call last week.

"The vans, both of them, were inspected and reviewed by two levels of staff here at LARC," he said. "A third component to that was they were inspected by a local commercial mechanic shop."

The van involved in the accident had a right rear tire replaced just days before the trip, along with a routine oil change, windshield wiper replacement and replacement of the windshield wiper pump.

"We only know there was a loud pop underneath the carriage of the van, and it began to skid and the woman lost control," Bradley said. "We've not had an opportunity to really interview anybody."

He could not recall another accident with such tragic consequences during his 28 years as director.

"You try to be as prudent as you can be, and then something still happens," Bradley said. "That's hard for all of us to take here."

In the wake of the tragedy, the community has pulled together to aid the organization.

"We had a lot of people in the community calling us and being supportive and asking what they can do," he said. "One individual, Mike Geml, who is pretty well known in Cape Coral, said he wanted to lead a fund-raising campaign to replace the van that was lost in the accident.

"We have established a special account in Sun Trust Banks to accept donations from all those people who wanted to help in some way, shape or form."

Those interested in donating may do so at any Sun Trust branch he said.

The crash remains under investigation.



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