A woman who police say was driving an SUV that killed two Ontario women in a Florida parking lot as been charged with a non-criminal infraction for not backing up properly — which carries a $1,000 fine if convicted and no jail time.
There is still the possibility of criminal charges from a homicide investigation that will take a couple of months for police to complete.
According to police reports, the 79-year-old driver backed into a group of seven people at high speed as they were leaving a Sunday church service at the Sugar Creek Country Club in the community of Bradenton, Fla. on Sunday.
Wilhemina (Willi) Paul, 70, of Dundas, Ont. was killed alongside Margaret Vanderlaan, 72, of Port Lambton, Ont. and Johanna Dijkhoff, 80, from the Netherlands. Four others, including a 67-year-old Ontario woman, were seriously injured in what bystanders called a traumatic chain of events.
Any time a car accident causes a death in Florida, a court hearing is mandatory for the driver, Florida law states. If the driver is found guilty of an offence involving a death, a mandatory fine of $1,000 is imposed and their license is suspended for six months.
“The crash remains under investigation,” said Lt. Gregory Bueno of Florida Highway Patrol. Investigators expect the final traffic homicide report will take two months to finish, Bueno said in an email. No criminal charges have been laid. Police have said alcohol wasn’t a factor.
'An awful scene'
Pastor Gerrit Koedoot delivered the service in Florida that took place mere minutes before the accident. He said the community is still reeling.
He recalled an SUV backing out of a parking spot, pulling forward and then needing more room to clear another parked vehicle. At that point the SUV began backing up again "at great speed," he said.
The vehicle ran straight through a group of pedestrians, over a curb, collided with some trees and finally came to a stop after splashing into a canal.
"They were just mowed down," he said. "It was just an awful scene. It was emotionally almost impossible to measure."
Paul and Vanderlaan, both good friends, had been spending the winter in Florida for years, as have most of the community's other residents.
Paul's husband John was standing just steps away from her when she was run over, said Pastor Rita Klein-Geltink of the Ancaster Reformed Church, where the Pauls were part of the congregation for 15 years. Klein-Geltink spoke to him by phone on Sunday evening.
“He had to be in shock, he was very pragmatic,” Klein-Geltink said. “He’s having a difficult time. He needs to come home.”
Third tragic death in 1 year for Hamilton church
Paul’s death is the third tragic fatality the Ancaster Christian Reformed Church in rural Hamilton has had to deal with in under a year.
Ancaster’s Tim Bosma was a member of the church before he disappeared from his home on a test drive in his truck with two strangers who responded to an online ad. His charred remains were later found and two people stand accused of his murder.
Then in September, 21-year-old Eric Alvin Kippers, who was also a member of the church, was killed in a car crash in rural Hamilton.
News of Paul’s death struck the church in Ancaster during a service on Sunday night. “There were many tears shed,” Klein-Geltink said. The congregation members are now preparing for the funeral — something they’ve gotten accustomed to in recent months.
“This is where we are as a church right now,” she said. “But all these little things are happening. I always hear about people dropping off meals, baking, going for coffee, and just kind words when they’re needed.”
“Still, it’s been really hard for people to wrap their heads and hearts around.”