Police crashes leave injuries, damage

Disasters and AccidentsHighway and Road DisastersTransportation DisastersHealthFlorida Highway PatrolKissimmeeMelbourne

Officer: Car too big for me

Kissimmee police Officer Wendy Quiñones kept running into things with her patrol car.

In three years, she had four traffic accidents for which she was solely to blame, according to state records.

One 2009 accident sent a man to the hospital when she turned left and plowed into a truck that was sitting at a red light.

The sun was in her eyes, she told the crash investigator.

The three other crashes were minor: She hit a yellow concrete pole at a McDonald's drive-through window, ran over an electrical box in a bank parking lot and hit a curb at 30 mph when she steered wide to avoid hitting three sandhill cranes, according to crash reports.

Why did she have so many accidents?

"I couldn't see," she told the Sentinel. "The car was so big, and I was so little."

Quiñones, who is 5 feet tall, drove a Crown Victoria. She asked the agency for a smaller Chevy Impala but didn't get one, she said. Instead, the department gave her a booster seat.

She was fired in 2010, she said, because she didn't report a minor crash.

Now?

"I'm in cosmetology school."

Chase ends with mom, kids hurt

State Trooper Andrew M. Barrett spotted a red Pontiac on Interstate 95 near Daytona Beach with a license plate that didn't look right. So he flipped on his emergency lights and gave chase.

That April 2009 pursuit would last two minutes and cover three miles, but before it was over, he would drive the wrong way down an I-95 entrance ramp, go 80 mph in a 45-mph zone, spin out of control into oncoming traffic and crash with an SUV carrying a mother and three children, according to state records.

The problem, said witness Bianca Lee, was that the trooper tried to mimic the getaway driver.

"It zoomed past cars, doing left, right, left," she said. "The trooper tried to do the same thing."

After hitting the SUV, she said, the trooper crashed into a tree and, even when it started smoking, stayed inside the car.

"I think he was in shock. My dad pulled him out," she said.

Five people were seriously injured, crash records show. The patrol-car crash was investigated by the Florida Highway Patrol, and it concluded that Barrett was guilty of speeding, careless driving and improper passing.

He was not ticketed or charged. FHP managers gave him a written reprimand and ordered him to take a one-day remedial-driving course. He has since left the agency.

He did not respond to a phone call or letter from the Sentinel.

Funeral-procession crash

On Oct. 31, 2008, a long string of cars, including many police vehicles with their lights blazing, wound down State Road 520 during a funeral procession for Deputy Richard Lee, who had died in an off-work motorcycle crash.

One of the mourners was Rockledge Officer Robert Weigel, who was driving 35 mph in his department-issued Chevy Impala with another officer. He didn't notice that the vehicles in front of him were slowing to a crawl, and he rammed a Brevard County Sheriff's Office truck, records show.

That truck then slammed into a Rockledge police car in front it, which in turn rear-ended the Ford SUV of a Melbourne couple attending the funeral.

Seven people were injured in the crashes.

The FHP trooper who investigated the crash wrote that Weigel was guilty of careless driving. He was not ticketed.

When contacted by the Sentinel, Weigel would not discuss the accident.

rstutzman@tribune.com or 407-650-6394

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