Thelma Wagenhoffer of Palm Coast, Florida was charged with careless driving after she allegedly crashed her car in to a packed Publix store, injuring 10 people. Wagenhoffer, 76, was not booked into jail but will have to appear in court to face the charges. It is also possible that some of the injured parties will file lawsuits against Wagenhoffer. It is not currently clear whether she has retained a private criminal defense attorney.
According to the car accident report by Palm Coast officers, the incident occurred at approximately 1:24 p.m. on Sunday at a Publix store located at 4950 Belle Terre Parkway. The accident, which was caught on Publix surveillance cameras, involved Wagenhoffer driving her white 2004 Toyota Camry through the Publix parking lot and 40 or 50 feet into the store, hitting 10 Publix patrons along the way. Remarkably, no one was killed in the accident.
Authorities are still trying to determine what caused Wagenhoffer to crash into the store. The Florida Highway Patrol says that Wagenhoffer’s car “accelerated rapidly as it crossed the parking lot.” The investigation has already ruled that the accident was not caused by a mechanical malfunction. It is not clear whether Wagenhoffer is on any medications or suffers from any conditions that may have impaired her ability to stop her vehicle. She walked away from the crash site unharmed and has not issued any public comments regarding the incident.
The injured parties include Marshenna Jones, 15, and her mother, 33-year-old Lasaunda Hampton; Daniel Siegel, 54; Suzanne Kuczek, 54; married couple Louis Caroppoli, 74, and Letricia Caroppoli, 69; Gertrude Marley, 86; Maria Hernandez, 81; and Lupo Mario Hernandez, 83, who was trapped underneath the vehicle and remains in serious condition. After the accident, Publix employees and patrons reportedly quickly organized to help victims, even working to free Lupo Hernandez from under the vehicle.
Lasaunda Hampton, who had been sitting on a bench outside of the store with Hernandez and her family moments before the accident, told the press that it was remarkable that her 3-month-old baby had survived the crash with just a bruise on his head. Hernandez was reportedly playing with Tyshan Davis, the 3-month-old, just before he was run over by the car. Lasauna Hampton suffered from lacerations from broken glass and still has glass lodged in her feet, while her daughter had to get 32 stitches to treat cuts from the crash. Because the baby was in a stroller, the impact of the crash caused him to roll away from the debris, saving him from the worst of the disaster.
“The older man that was sitting by me. He was the one that got stuck up under the car, ’cause it was us three that she just hit first… the rest of them [she was] just hitting them like bowling pins. Just knocking them out the way,” Hampton told a reporter. On the surveillance footage, Hampton, her children, Hernandez, and other patrons can be seen outside of the store before the Toyota drove straight into them. They then disappear from the screen, pushed out of view by the car.
“When you see the video you realize it’s a miracle no one got killed,” commented a Florida Highway Patrol officer. The Publix store was reopened at 7:00 a.m. on Monday.