Two medical technicians died early Thursday when their ambulance crashed and overturned on a section of Indiantown Road that is long overdue for improvements, Jupiter officials said Thursday.
“It’s a tragedy that we haven’t fixed this problem already. There have to be traffic pattern changes in that area,” said Vice Mayor Wayne Posner. The stretch of Indiantown near Military Trail has seen 27 crashes since 2012, a recent town study has found.
Lahiri Garcia, 51, and Paul Besaw, 36, died in the crash, which took place at about 3 a.m. outside Colonial Plaza, said town police, who are investigating the crash.
Garcia and Besaw worked for American Medical Response, which identified them in a social media post at noon Thursday. Garcia, a 23-year employee who lived in Port St. Lucie, was a critical care supervisor. Besaw, a 17-year employee who lived in Lake Worth, was a critical care paramedic and supervisor, according to the post.
The two men were alone in the ambulance and on their way to the AMR station on Indian Creek Drive west of Central Boulevard when the crash occurred, said Kim Warth, AMR’s national director of communications.
Ramon Chapa, who witnessed the crash, said he was at a bus stop when a red, two-door Chrysler Sebring convertible that had been driving eastbound tried to make a U-turn in the median near Colonial Plaza and pulled out in front of the ambulance, which was headed westbound, away from Jupiter Medical Center.
“They had just dropped a patient off at a nearby hospital,” said Warth, who could not specify the hospital.
Members of Garcia’s and Besaw’s families declined comment Thursday afternoon.
“The AMR family has lost two amazing people. They were dedicated husbands, fathers, friends and teammates,” said Bill Hall, regional director for AMR.
The ambulance did not have its emergency lights on, said Chapa. Both cars had their headlights on, he said. Chapa said he and another person at the bus stop ran to the crash and tried to help. He said he saw one person in the ambulance struggling to breathe.
Firefighters had to cut trapped occupants out of their vehicles, said Capt. Albert Borroto, spokesman for Palm Beach County Rescue. The ambulance was flipped on its side. Te right side of the car was heavily damaged and the windshield was cracked.
The driver of the Sebring was critically injured in the crash and taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, said Jupiter police, which had not identified him as of Thursday night.
The 27 crashes on that section of Indiantown Road — Jupiter’s main east-west street — since 2012 have taken place near Jupiter High School. Three involved bicycles and one involved a pedestrian. Most have taken place within the peak high-school traffic times, according to a town traffic report.
“The current roadway configuration generates extremely high-risk vehicular behavior and maneuvers often performed by young and inexperienced drivers attending Jupiter Community High School,” according to the report.
Wendy’s restaurant, located on that section of Indiantown, often has traffic backups, mostly at lunchtime. The restaurant has applied to the town to make changes to lessen backups onto Indiantown.
The current traffic pattern is a hazard both for drivers and walkers, said Colleen Iannitti, principal at the 3,000-student high school.
“Anything we can do to relieve traffic would be beneficial for families and students,” Iannitti said at a recent town council meeting.
Traffic pattern changes are being considered now that the town paid $2.8 million for for 2 vacant acres on the eastbound side of Indiantown at Philadelphia Drive, where Thursday’s fatal crash took place. A turn lane on Indiantown and a traffic signal are being considered.
The fatal crash “brings into focus that changes need to be made. Maybe a traffic light, maybe a turn lane. We need to look at the alternatives,” said Posner.