Pasco County, FL Head-On Crash, Jul 1999


By the Tampa Tribune.
Almost every summer, ALEXIS H. MALMQUIST loaded up her three daughters and headed to Florida's west coast to visit her mother, her neighbor's said.
This time, the vacation ended disastrously. The family left Cary, Illinois, Wednesday morning and had driven more that 1,200 miles when their GMC van was struck head-on Thursday afternoon in Pasco County.
MALMQUIST and one of her three daughters died in the crash. The other two girls were injured, one seriously.
The driver of a Honda Accord that hit the van, ROSE MARIE JOHNSON, and her passenger, VERNON MICHAEL PADGETT, both of Dade City, also were killed.
The wreck happened shortly after 1 p.m., about a half-mile south of State Road 54 in Pasco County.
A witness said the van "never had a chance."
Juan Cardona of Tampa, who works for Humphrey Enterprises, was picking up litter in the grassy median of the north-south highway.
"I looked up, and about 50 feet away from me was this car coming right into the median," he said. "I panicked and just stood there. It hit the hump in the median and went up into the air."
JOHNSON'S car landed facing north in the southbound lanes, said witness Steven Zeiser of Tampa.
"It was like the car had been shot out of a cannon," he said. "I pulled over past the Honda and tried to help the people in the van."
Two off-duty Pasco County Fire Rescue workers were returning from a fishing trip when they came across the wreckage. Paramedic Jeff Forbus and driver/engineer Alan Ferrito began working to free one of MALMQUIST'S twin daughters from the van. Other rescue workers arrived and began treating the girl and her younger sister, GAIL.
Both were flown by helicopter to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.
GAIL, a third-grader, has a severe head injury, medical officials said. She underwent surgery Thursday afternoon and was listed in critical condition Thursday evening. She needed a ventilator to breathe.
Her sister has a broken leg, paramedics said. She was in fair condition Thursday evening.
On Thursday night it was unclear which of the twins, JACKIE or KATIE, had died.
MALMQUIST, 42, and one of the twins were killed instantly, the Florida Highway Patrol reported. JOHNSON, 42, and her boyfriend, VERNON MICHAEL PADGETT, 41, both of 35371 Reynolds St., also died at the scene.
News of the wreck traveled quickly. JOHNSON'S son, 23-year-old John Huran of Land O' Lakes, said he had a
"sick" feeling when he saw the car on a television newscast. But he said it wasn't until hours later that he knew his mother was involved.
JOHNSON was a clerk at the U-Save grocery store at Armenia and Sligh Avenues, in Tampa, her son said. She left New York for Palm Beach County in 1982 and moved to Dade City in 1989. Since then, she has lived in Pasco and Hillsborough Counties. She and PADGETT were on their way to pick up his children when the wreck happened.
Word also spread through the MALMQUISTS' tightknit community of Patriot Wood in Cary, Illinois. Neighbors said they were shocked to learn the hard-working single mother and her daughters had been involved in the deadly crash.
Wreckage from both vehicles remained scattered along the southbound lanes for hours, Thursday afternoon. One lane remained closed until about 6 p.m.
Blankets, books and board games lay on the pavement near the MALMQUISTS' van. Torn suitcases revealed vacation essentials: swimsuits, shorts and T-shirts.
Troopers were not sure Thursday night what caused JOHNSON to lose control of the car. An investigation continues.

The Tampa Tribune Florida 1999-07-23