The new year dawned deadly on the Florida Keys’ main highway as two separate crashes on U.S. 1 ended two lives in the first four days of 2016.
Holiday traffic volumes not seen in years came to an abrupt halt at a series of accidents, often stranding motorists headed both north and south.
In addition to the two fatal accidents, Florida Highway Patrol troopers have handled 18 other crashes since 12:01 a.m. Jan. 1, Keys commander Lt. Kathleen McKinney said.
“The number of crashes we handled — definitely up,” McKinney said.
Monroe County’s FHP commander for nearly eight years, McKinney called the holiday traffic “the busiest I’ve seen since coming here.”
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office handled other crashes when FHP troopers were tied up.
Josko Katalinic, 78, of Key West suffered fatal injuries around 11:30 a.m. Monday on Ramrod Key when he drove his Toyota Tacoma pickup from Amberjack Road on the oceanside into the path of an oncoming Key West Transit bus headed north on U.S. 1.
Bus driver Frederick Parsons, 61, tried to steer away from Katalinic's truck, but the bus struck the Tacoma on the left side. Both the bus and truck ended up in the southbound lanes, FHP investigator Trooper Gary Dunick reported.
Katalinic was rushed to Fishermen's Community Hospital in Marathon but soon died.
Parsons and his 10 passengers were not seriously injured, although some passengers were treated by rescue crews at the scene near mile marker 27. Both U.S. 1 lanes were closed for about 90 minutes before limited traffic started flowing.
A three-vehicle head-on collision Saturday in the middle of the Snake Creek drawbridge in Islamorada killed a Davie woman riding as a passenger and critically injured a driver.
Passenger Debra C. Antonello, 58, died of her wounds at Mariners Hospital in Tavernier.
In all, 15 people were involved in the crash on the bridge that connects Plantation Key and Windley Key near mile marker 85.5. Each of the three cars carried at least four people. Most suffered minor injuries or escaped harm.
FHP investigators Trooper Julio Carrillo and Cpl. David Riso reported that in heavy southbound traffic at 1 p.m. a 2013 Volvo SUV driven by Kristen Antonello, 30, of Tampa “failed to reduce speed to avoid a collision” with a Ford Explorer traveling in front of the Volvo.
The Volvo hit the back of the Explorer and veered into the northbound lane, where it slammed head-on into a 2011 Chevrolet Traverse driven by Stanford Dasher, 44, of Georgia.
Kristen Antonello suffered critical injuries. She was taken to Mariners, then flown by air ambulance to Ryder Trauma Center in Miami. Her condition was not available at press time. Passenger William Antonello, 57, was listed in serious condition.
Stanford Dasher, Felisha Dasher and their four passengers, all from Georgia, were treated at Mariners for minor injuries.
Five people in the Explorer — driver Roberta Girardelli, 41, of Miami and four passengers from Italy — told troopers they were not hurt.
The bridge remained partially closed for more than two hours. Traffic backups still extended for miles in both directions at sunset. No charges were filed at the crash scene pending additional investigation of the traffic death.