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Officials Say The Deadly Pride Parade Crash Was Not Planned.
South Florida

Officials Say The Deadly Pride Parade Crash Was Not Planned.



FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A member of a men's chorus group inadvertently slammed into fellow chorists at the start of a Pride parade in South Florida, killing one and seriously injuring another, the group's director said on Sunday, putting to rest initial speculation that it was a hate crime directed at the gay community.

The 77-year-old driver was taken into custody, but no charges have been filed, and the investigation is ongoing, according to Wilton Manors Vice Mayor Paul Rolli and Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis.

According to a statement issued by Fort Lauderdale Police on Sunday, the elderly driver had ailments that prevented him from walking and was cooperating with the investigation. There was no evidence that drugs or alcohol were involved.

“The preliminary investigation now indicates it appears to have been a tragic accident,” Rolli told The Associated Press over the phone.

The victims and the driver were both members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men's Chorus, a small 25-member group of mostly older men.

“Our fellow Chorus members were injured, and the driver is also a member of the Chorus family; to the best of my knowledge, this was not an attack on the LGBTQ community,” President Justin Knight said in a statement Sunday, calling it an “unfortunate accident.”

Rolli was on the float in front of the chorus truck, along with Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis and other city officials, at a staging area where the floats were being readied. Trantalis said a pickup truck driver suddenly accelerated when he was told he was next in the parade, crashing into the victims.

According to police, the driver continued across all lanes of traffic before colliding with a fence on the other side of the street.

Rolli was on the other side of the float and did not see the crash, but jumped off immediately and ran to the victims, as it was unclear what happened in the confusion.

People were really distraught and some people were crying,” Rolli said, explaining that the crash occurred in an area where the floats were lining up, so there weren’t as many parade-goers. “I was getting phone calls from people I knew at the other end waiting for the parade saying, ‘Is this true? Is that true, do we have anything to worry about?’ You don’t know at that point.”

No arrests have been made, according to Fort Lauderdale Police, who are conducting a thorough investigation with the FBI and are "considering and evaluating all possibilities."

Trantalis, Fort Lauderdale's first openly gay mayor, initially told reporters that the act was intentional, which added to the confusion Saturday night.

“It terrorized me and everyone around me... I feared it could have been intentional based on what I saw from mere feet away,” he said in a statement on Twitter Sunday. “As the facts continue to be pieced together, a picture of an accident in which a truck careened out of control is emerging.”

Wilton Manors is a close-knit community near Fort Lauderdale with a bustling downtown filled with cute shops, where people queue for Rosie's famous hamburgers or to gossip and drink at Georgie's Alibi Monkey Bar.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was seen in tears in a convertible during the parade, according to photos and video from the scene.

Wasserman Schultz said she was safe but "deeply shaken and devastated that a life was lost" in a statement late Saturday night.

“I am heartbroken by what occurred at this celebration,” she said, adding, “May the memory of the life lost be a blessing.”

According to a chorus spokesman, the director refused to give interviews, and many members of the small group witnessed the fatal crash and were deeply shaken.

“The reason people like Wilton Manors is because the entire community is one big family and that’s how we treat each other... and this has really rattled a lot of people,” Rolli said, “even if it’s an accident, just the loss of a life.”

June is Pride Month, commemorating the June 1969 police raid on gay patrons at New York's Stonewall Inn, which sparked an outpouring of LGBTQ Americans and served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement.

 

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