Elderly man killed when van pushed into St. Johns River

Associated Press, June 05, 2003 - 10:54 AM

A chain reaction collision led to the death of an elderly St. Johns County man whose van was pushed 20 feet off the Shands Bridge into the St. Johns River.

The driver, whose name is being withheld until relatives are notified, was still buckled in his seat when the van was pulled from the river, about 30 miles south of Jacksonville.

The accident occurred shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday. The van was traveling toward Clay County from St. Johns County when it stopped or slowed for congestion on the bridge from an earlier accident. It was struck from behind by a Ford Explorer driven by Carrie Plumlee, 21, of Green Cove Springs, said Lt. Bill Leeper of the Florida Highway Patrol.

Leeper said Plumlee was traveling about 50 mph when she struck the van. She swerved at the last minute, striking the van's right rear and knocked it through the guardrail. Charges against Plumlee, who received only minor injuries, are pending.

Witnesses said the van sank quickly into about 20 feet of water.

Divers from the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office found the van, which was pulled from the water several hours later.

The search and recovery of the van closed the bridge for four hours.