BRANDON, Fla. - By 11:30 p.m. Saturday night, Otilio Hernandez was already fast asleep. That is, until the unforgettable sound of two vehicles colliding on the street below had him jumping out of bed.
"It woke me up instantly," said Hernandez, who ran out to the back stairwell on the third floor of his apartment building on Providence Ave. to see what happened. That's when he saw the smoking car next to a large SUV.
"It did catch fire," said Hernandez. "A lot of smoke and everything. And the firemen put it out, and they got the person out," he said.
That person was Ann Marie Fanning, 22, who was traveling eastbound on the Brandon Parkway Extension in a Mazda sedan. She was struck by a GMC Envoy which had run a yield sign on Providence Avenue, and then crossed over the median into oncoming traffic.
Donald Ward, 38, the driver of the SUV, took off on foot, even as Fanning's car was smoking and she was trapped inside. Sheriff's deputies who arrived at the crash scene used their portable fire extinguishers to keep the flames at bay until the fire department arrived.
"Once a fire gets started in a car, sometimes it spreads quickly and it's very difficult to extinguish," said Hillsborough County Sheriff's Sgt. Ed Kelley. "That probably would have happened had the deputies not had fire extinguishers," Kelley said.
Firefighters used extraction equipment to free Fanning from the burning car. The USF student suffered serious internal injuries, but avoided major burns.
Ward tried hiding in the brush surrounding a nearby retention pond, according to investigators, and was bitten on the hand by a police dog as he tried to escape. He jumped into the pond, only to find himself captured a short time later.
That's when deputies said they smelled alcohol on his breath.
"Don't get behind the wheel," Hernandez said, disgusted to hear that the crash might be alcohol related. "You're driving a 4000 pound bullet. God forbid you hit a family and wipe them out," he said.
Ward was charged with leaving the scene of an accident with injuries, a felony. Deputies got a warrant to take a blood sample from Ward to find out if he was impaired at the time of the crash.
"If you're caught drinking and driving you should be locked up," said Hernandez. "The laws can't be harsh enough."
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