SEBRING - A Ford Focus southbound on U.S. 27 was struck by a northbound Jaguar, then the Jaguar was struck by two more cars.
The resulting traffic pileup lasted most of Thursday afternoon and may have spawned two more accidents on or near the detour route, which included Flare Road, Bruns and Hammock.
The first impact occurred at 12:57 p.m. Six minutes later, a Highlands Emergency Medical Services ambulance arrived at the scene and Francis Gero was pronounced dead. His wife, Barbara Gero, 110 Logan St., Sebring, was airlifted to Lakeland Regional Medical Center. As of 11 p.m. Thursday, she was in critical condition and still on life support.
The Jaguar driver, Robert Goldstein, was transported to Highlands Regional Medical Center. The drivers of the two vehicles involved in the secondary accidents with the Jaguar, Amanda Monday and Leonor Guzman, were not treated. However, Guzman's passenger, who was not identified by Sebring Police, was taken to Florida Hospital Heartland.
Two witnesses told Sebring Police the northbound 2003 Jaguar "entered the left-turn divider on U.S. 27 near the 300 block ... to make a left turn across the southbound lanes."
Witnesses stated the Jaguar did not slow down, but police are still investigating why that happened.
"The Jaguar then hit the curb at the end of the turn lane," Officer Raymond Rossy's report said. "The Jaguar then invaded the inner lane of the southbound traffic."
The Jaguar's front driver's side struck Gero's 2001 Ford on the driver's side, Rossy reported. The Jaguar stopped, but the Focus rolled airborne west across three lanes of traffic, flopping onto the driver's side at the entrance into 363 US 27 South. The driver was pinned between the vehicle and the roadway.
Meanwhile, a 2008 Nissan Maxima, southbound behind Gero's Ford, also struck the Jaguar head on and pushed the Jaguar into the center lane.
A fourth vehicle, a 2003 Dodge Caravan, was southbound in the center lane and struck the Jaguar's right rear quarter panel. The Jaguar spun clockwise and came to rest 30 feet away from the first impact.
Another accident was reported in the northbound lane, but Sebring Police Commander Steve Carr wasn't certain how it was related to the 4-car pileup.
All the vehicles were tagged in Florida, but Gero had a New York driver's license.
Carr said police cleared the scene about 6 p.m.
"What a day for accidents," said Highlands County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Nell Carr.
At 2:28 p.m,, a three-car accident was reported at Heron and Pigeon, just a few blocks from the detour route.
At 6 p.m., a four-car accident was reported at Heron and Hammock, which could have been related to the detour.
Hays was uncertain about injuries.
Neither EMS nor Lakeland Regional Medical Center returned calls before press time.