MIAMI (AP) – Three good Samaritans were killed Sunday night when they were struck by a car after they’d stopped along a dark, two-lane road in the Florida Everglades to assist another motorist whose vehicle hit a black bear.
The accident took place on Snake Road, which is in the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, about 18 miles north of Alligator Alley and about halfway between Fort Lauderdale and Naples.
Seminole police spokesman Gary Bitner told The Associated Press that Caroline Billie, a tribe member, was driving a sports utility vehicle when she saw the bear crossing the road just before 7 p.m. Sunday and couldn’t stop in time to avoid hitting it.
The bear was killed, and the impact damaged Billie’s vehicle to the extent that she wasn’t able to drive it. A short time later, three vehicles that were traveling together stopped on the side of the road to assist the woman.
Eight people who were in those three vehicles were standing on the side of the road. Another vehicle, heading in the opposite direction and driven by Gary McInturff of Hollywood, hit the SUV and sideswiped one of the stopped vehicles, sending it into the people on the road’s shoulder, Bitner said.
Billie and McInturff were not seriously injured.
The area would have been dark at the time and there are no street lights, Bitner added. The crash occurred just north of the line separating Broward and Hendry counties, which is inside the reservation.
The three killed were identified by the Seminole Police Department as Yoel Menendez, 44; Ricoberto Llanez, 43; and Alain Navarro, 46; all residents of Miami-Dade County.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office sent helicopters to fly four people to a trauma center in Fort Lauderdale. Four others were taken by ambulance to Fort Lauderdale and a hospital in nearby Hollywood.
Bitner said five of the injured were treated and released. The other three were admitted to the hospital but are not believed to have life-threatening injuries: Jose Vega and Mario Cecilio, both of Miami-Dade County, and a juvenile passenger in McInturff’s vehicle.
Investigators remained at the scene throughout the night and into Monday morning.
“They are still trying to figure everything out,” Bitner said.
The bear was a 300-pound adult male, according to Carli Segelson, spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
She said that through Dec. 5, there had only been one bear-related road kill in Broward County and 15 in Collier County. There have been 132 bears killed statewide during that time. She said more than half of those are around the Ocala National Forest in central Florida.
“There are black bears throughout Florida and this is in the Everglades, so there absolutely are black bears in that area,” Bitner said.
Bitner said a black bear was hit and killed in a one-car accident about five years ago in the Big Cypress reservation, but there were no human injuries.
Big Cypress is about 50,000 acres and one of several tribal reservations scattered around Florida.
Encounters with bears in Florida are reported sporadically. Last week, wildlife authorities in central Florida said they captured and killed a bear that was suspected of biting a woman on the arm last Wednesday as she walked her dog in the Orlando suburb of Lake Mary.
Authorities said they also captured two of that bear’s cubs but one was killed in the process. They added the other cub was old enough to survive on its own and they planned to release it elsewhere.