Florida Pride crash that killed one was not a homophobic terror attack, officials say
The Florida Pride Parade crash that killed one was “not an attack on the LGBT+ community”, officials and community leaders said Sunday (20 June).
Panic and mayhem gripped a small town in southern Florida when a pickup truck struck a Pride-goers at a parade, killing one and injuring another.
The incident happened mere moments before marchers were to kick off the long-awaited Stonewall Pride Parade in Wilton Manors, just north of Fort Lauderdale.
The driver, police in Fort Lauderdale said Sunday, was a 77-year-old man who was unable to walk in the march because of unspecified “ailments”. He and the victims were members of a local gay men’s chorus group, police said.
But amid speculation that the incident was fuelled by homophobia, federal investigators and city officials have clarified that the incident was a “tragic accident”.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the police investigated and said that the crash was “not a criminal act directed at anyone”, Gary Blocker, the chief of police for the Wilton Manors Police Department, said in a statement Sunday.
Fort Lauderdale city mayor Dean Trantalis, who witnessed the crash, echoed this in a Facebook statement, writing that “a picture is emerging of an accident in which a truck careened out of control”.
“My heart breaks of all impacted by this tragedy,” he added.
His statement was certain to soothe the Wilton Manors LGBT+ community after his earlier comments sparked confusion and fear when he claimed it was a “terrorist attack” that “targeted” queer parade-goers.
He said his initial comments came from a time when he was rattled by the fear of what could have been. His mind, he said, is still reeling from the crash.
“It terrorised me and all around me,” he added in the statement. “I feared it could be intentional based on what I saw from mere feet away.”
What happened at the Florida Pride crash?
According to the authorities, the driver stepped into his 2011 white Dodge Ram by the staging area at the 1600 block of Northeast Fourth Avenue to wait for the parade to start in the evening.
At around 7pm as the parade before it was to inch forward, the driver “accelerated unexpectedly” and struck two attendees.
“After striking the pedestrians, the driver continued across all lanes of traffic, ultimately crashing into the fence of a business on the west side of the street,” police said.
A DUI investigation of the driver was conducted on scene and showed no signs of impairment.
“While no arrests have been made, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department continues to investigate this incident and will not be releasing the names of the involved parties due to the status of the investigation,” the department added.
One of the men died of his injuries at the Broward Health Medical Center later that evening. The second victim is on course to “survive”, police stressed.
Both the driver and the victims were part of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus, a 25-member group of older queer men now united, they wrote in a joint Facebook statement, in their mourning.
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“We are deeply saddened by the tragic death and injuries that occurred as a result of an unfortunate accident at the start of the Stonewall Pride Parade,” the Facebook post said.
“Our fellow chorus members were those injured and the driver is also a part of the chorus family,” the groups’s president Justin Knight said in a statement Sunday
“To my knowledge, this was not an attack on the LGBTQ community.”
The driver, who has not been named by police, had slammed into the two men within mere feet of law enforcement officials and elected officials.
Democratic representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was joined by her staffers, wrote Twitter that witnessed the act left her “deeply shaken and devastated that a life was lost and others seriously injured”.
“I am so heartbroken by what took place at this celebration,” she added. “May the memory of the life lost be for a blessing.”