Catherine Hooker crept toward the silver Mercury Sable, the one wrapped around the palm tree, and peeked inside Saturday night. The driver was alive, and moving, and talking.
“Just stay still until the paramedics arrive,” said Hooker, whose father is an emergency room physician in Destin.
“That’s probably the best advice I ever heard,” said Louis M. Penque Jr., 20.
“Are you OK?” she asked.
“Weed is a magical drug,” Penque responded, according to Hooker.
Soon after 10 p.m. Saturday, about five minutes after the crash, officers and paramedics responded to the scene at the entrance of Fairmont Oaks apartments, 316 SW 62nd Blvd. Paramedics freed Penque, who is listed as a student in the UF Phonebook, and he appeared healthy. Before he was told to lie on a stretcher, he laughed and raised both arms.
Gainesville Police spokeswoman Cpl. Angelina Valuri said the crash is still under investigation. Officers drew blood from Penque to see if he had used drugs Saturday night, and they are awaiting the results.
Before the crash, Hooker said she drove south on Southwest 62nd Street. The Sable sped toward her from behind, going 70 or 80 mph. When Penque reached Hooker’s car, he veered left into the wrong lane.
The Sable tipped left, Hooker said, and Penque overcorrected. Now leaning right, the car rolled down a ditch. It dragged forward against the grass. Then it hit a bump and caught air.
The car crashed into the palm tree at the entrance of Fairmont Oaks. The tree split in the middle. The passenger’s side of the Sable ripped open.
“If someone were on the other side of the car, he would have been dead,” said GPD Sgt. David Blizzard.
Tony McCloud, 24, was at Hampton Oaks Apartments, about a quarter mile north of the crash, when it happened. It sounded like a bomb, he said.
After the crash, Hooker said she checked on Penque. He leaned against the tree trunk, which now jutted between the driver’s and passenger’s front seats. He was laughing.
Penque asked for his iPhone, which lay on the road next to the wrecked car. Hooker handed it to him, thinking he would call 911. Instead, he snapped pictures of himself. When officers arrived, Hooker said, he threw the phone at one of them.
After a rescue team freed Penque, he stood, laughing. A group of about 15 watched from a ditch next to the crash, conflicted about the proper response. Some laughed. Others asked if they should cheer. Paramedics carted him to an ambulance.
An hour later, the top half of the palm tree stretched across the exit of Fairmont Oaks. Glass sprinkled the road. Other parts of the Sable were spread throughout the entrance.
Then there was the car’s license plate. It was a vanity plate. Proceeds went to the Police Benevolent Association.
Contact Tyler Jett at email@example.com.
Alachua County Fire Rescue workers attempt to free Louis M. Penque Jr. from his car late Saturday. A witness said Penque attempted to pass her while traveling about 70 to 80 mph on Southwest 62nd Street.
Louis M. Penque Jr. is helped to a stretcher by Alachua County Fire Rescue workers late Saturday. Penque lost control of his vehicle during an attempt to pass traffic while driving south on Southwest 62nd Street.