CORAL SPRINGS (CBSMiami) – A wrong way driver who hit and killed two Coral Springs women last week was driving the wrong way for at least two miles on the Sawgrass Expressway and swerved to miss more than 20 cars and trucks before the deadly collision, an eyewitness to the crash told CBS4 News in an exclusive interview.
Frank Aceste said he tried to alert the wrong way driver prior to the crash but to no avail.
“I tried flashing my lights, beeping my horn but no response from the driver,” Aceste told CBS 4’s Carey Codd, adding that he was on the phone with a 911 operator for about 10 minutes before the crash.
Aceste said the driver, identified by the Florida Highway Patrol as Kaila Mendoza, appeared to slow down at one point, after losing her control of her car. Aceste said even though he was on the opposite side of the road, he was close enough to the driver to wave his hands and honk his horn. He says he told 911 that he believed the driver realized she was going the wrong way.
But Aceste was wrong. He said the driver accelerated, continued heading the wrong way and seconds later slammed into a car driven by Kaitlyn Ferrante.
“They collided head on,” he said. “The cars flew in the air, spun around and the lights went out.”
Aceste told Codd that he ran to help the victims as the wrong way driver’s car caught fire. He said he couldn’t do much except to try and reassure the victims.
“I said ‘Help is on the way,'” he recalled. “‘You’re gonna be alright. They’ll be here quickly.'”
Catronio died on the scene. Ferrante died a few days later in the hospital. Mendoza remains hospitalized for her injuries.
On Tuesday Aceste sat down for the first time with the families of both victims as the families held a fundraiser at Pasquale & Sons Pizza in Coral Springs.
“I think what Frank did is totally heroic,” said Gary Catronio. “I believe you did everything you could to help out, I really do.”
Ashley Ferrante, Kaitlyn’s sister, said the knowledge that someone tried to alert authorities and prevent a tragedy is comforting. But she is struggling to understand why police didn’t respond sooner to stop the driver before the crash.
“It shouldn’t have happened to begin with and it shouldn’t have continued for as long as it did,” she said.
Also on Tuesday, CBS 4 News obtained a copy of the preliminary crash report. In it, investigators said Mendoza drove her car in an “erratic, reckless or aggressive manner.” The report also says investigators suspect that Mendoza had been drinking and that it was unknown if she was under the influence of drugs. The report says she was tested for both.
The report also said Mendoza was likely driving 80 miles an hour in a 65 mile per hour zone. Aceste said that’s in the ballpark.
“I’d say anywhere between 80-90 mile an hour range,” he said.
The Catronio’s and Ferrante’s are still trying to understand how this wrong way crash could happen. So is Frank Aceste.
“There was more than enough warning so I don’t know why she would continue on like that,” Aceste said.
We don’t know any details about where Mendoza was or what she was doing before getting on the highway but a tweet on her twitter page from just hours before the crash read “2 drunk 2 care.” Her stepfather told CBS 4 News by phone that Mendoza has always been a clean-cut young woman focused on work and school, not one to engage in risky behavior.
“I can’t fathom where that 2 drunk 2 care came from,” he said. Mendoza’s stepfather also said “(Kaila) has no clue” that anyone was killed in the accident. Her stepfather said “Our hearts go out to the people” whose loved ones were killed.
The families of Marisa Catronio and Kaitlyn Ferrante are adamant that their deaths will not be in vain. They are working to put new safety measures in place to prevent another wrong way accident on our roads.
“We’re not gonna stop,” said Christine Ferrante, Kaitlyn’s mother. “We’re gonna make sure this doesn’t happen to any other family ever again.”
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 20-year old Kaila Mendoza didn’t even have a valid driver’s license.
The families have set up individual funds to help pay for funeral expenses.