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Man accidentally drives into parade in Florida; one dead, one hurt

By
Allen Cone

June 20 (UPI) -- A 77-year-old man participating in the Stonewall Pride Parade near Fort Lauderdale, Fla., drove a pickup truck into a crowd of people, killing one man and hospitalizing another, in a crash described Sunday as a "tragic accident."

A 2011 white Dodge Ram lined up with other floats, accelerated and ran over the two men in Wilton Manors on Saturday night, Fort Lauderdale police said in a news release Sunday afternoon. The parade was scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

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The unidentified man was a parade participant who had ailments and was selected to drive as the lead vehicle. Shortly after the start of the parade, the vehicle began to accelerate unexpectedly and struck two pedestrians, police said in a news release. The vehicle continued across all lanes and crashed into the fence of a business, as shown in surveillance video.

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The driver was taken into custody but showed no signs or impairment and wasn't arrested.

"Our local law enforcement agencies and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are to be commended for their diligent work investigating this incident that we now know was a tragic accident," Wilton Manors Mayor Scott Newton posted on Twitter.

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The two unnamed victims were taken to Broward Health Medical Center, where one was pronounced dead. The other man is expected to survive, police said.

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The driver and both injured are members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men's Chorus.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the tragic accident that occurred when the Stonewall Pride Parade was just getting started," Justin Knight, the chorus' president, said through a spokesman. "Our fellow Chorus members were those injured and the driver was also a part of the Chorus family. To my knowledge, this was not an attack on the LGBTQ community. We anticipate more details to follow and ask for the community's love and support."

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was riding in a convertible in a parade and Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said the driver missed her "by inches," before crashing through a gate and into a plant nursery.

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"I am deeply shaken and devastated that a life was lost and others seriously injured at tonight's Wilton Manors Stonewall Pride Parade," Wasserman Schultz posted on Twitter. "My staff, volunteers and I are, thankfully, safe. I want to thank our first responders for their heroic efforts as both police and emergency medical personnel stepped into action quickly.

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"We're praying for the victims and their loved ones as law enforcement investigates and I am providing them with whatever assistance I can. I am so heartbroken by what took place at this celebration. May the memory of the life lost be for a blessing."

Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony also was near the incident.

"This tragedy took place within feet of me and my BSO team, and we are devastated having witnessed this horrific incident," Tony tweeted. "I'm proud of all the BSO and local first responders who leaped into action, running into the unknown and instantly provided care for the victims."

Shortly after the crash, Trantalis, who is Fort Lauderdale's first openly gay mayor, told WPLG-TV: "This is a terrorist attack against the LGBT community. This is exactly what it is. Hardly an accident. It was deliberate, it was premeditated, and it was targeted against a specific person. Luckily they missed that person, but unfortunately, they hit two other people."

He issued an updated statement on Sunday: "Law enforce took what appeared obvious to me and others nearby and investigated further -- as is their job. As the facts continued to be pieced together, a picture is emerging of an accident in which a truck careened out of control."

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The FBI has joined the investigation.

"It was bad," Keith Witusik, a mechanic at Fort Lauderdale Garden Center, told WPLG-TV. "I was like, oh my God. I can't believe this is happening."

The parade was canceled though other festival events were to continue, organizers said.

June is Gay Pride Month. The Stonewall riots happened in late June 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan.

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