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“It was a pretty traumatizing event, seeing all those people hurt and cut up and stuff,” said Frank Tucker, 17. “When you see the accident it’s pretty intense, kind of like a movie scene.”
The teenagers were enjoying the ride in the Cadillac Escalade limo when, at 6:43 p.m., a Honda Odyssey van started swerving wildly in front of them, according to Danny Izzi, president of Avanti Limousines and Airport Transportation.
“[The driver] was wobbling [and] the van was going side to side on two wheels almost,” he said. “I knew she was losing control and as soon as she hit the wall she rebounded and then the van fell [over] so the passenger side was on the top.”
The limousine screeched to a halt, narrowly missing the flipped van.
“I almost hit them,” Izzi said. “I had to slam on my brakes, but with 20 kids in there it’s really [difficult] to put the brakes on.”
He heard yelling and crying as the van’s passengers tried to free themselves. ‘Hold on, hold on, we’ll get you out,” he yelled as he and the 20 glammed-up students scrambled out of the Escalade, 17-year-old Krista Pulcini said.
“We were trying to help because we didn’t know what happened, how they flipped, how many people were in there,” she said.
Few could agree on the exact order of the events that followed.
“I was trying to get the sliding door open on top, and I couldn’t get the back door open until I finally kicked it and it broke open and all this food came out,” Izzi said. “They must have just gone [grocery shopping].”
One student climbed on top of the van, forced the sliding door open and reached in to free some of the passengers. Gerard Jewel, 9, managed to climb out the rear door. Somaya Isma, 2, who was not in a child restraint seat, was lifted out, the Florida Highway Patrol said.
“[A woman] started crying, ‘My baby,’ and we were trying to find the baby and the baby was stuck on the floor but we could see the baby,” Izzi said. “I pulled [the baby] out and handed the baby to some girl from the prom.”
Someone else handed Jewel to Pulcini.
“I was helping this little boy and was just trying to keep him calm,” she said. “I was just asking him, ‘Where is your mom?’ because so many people were coming out of the van.”
Firefighters and police arrived within five minutes. Six people were taken to Westside Regional Hospital; one was taken to Broward Health Medical Center.
The seniors went on to their prom at the Westin Hotel on Fort Lauderdale beach, undaunted if a bit disheveled.
“I went to the prom and a lot of girls were helping me get the blood out of my dress, so it was good,” Pulcini said.
FHP Sgt. Mark Wysocky identified the injured people as van driver Karen Exalien, 28; and passengers Enddey Mareus, 33; Marie Gelin, 55; Mysta Joseph, 30; Merancieuse St. Louis, 61, and the two children, Jewel and Isma. All are from Fort Lauderdale.
Exalien was charged with failure to use due care and violation of a child restraint law. Everyone but the 2-year-old was wearing seat belts. No one was seriously hurt, the FHP said.
“I freaked out a little bit, but at least they were safe,” Pulcini said. “That’s what made me happy, they were safe.”