Pastor describes accident that killed 3 pedestrians in Bradenton parking lot

rdymond@bradenton.comFebruary 3, 2014 

MANATEE - Wilhemina Paul, 70, affectionately known by everyone in Sugar Creek Country Club as Willi, adored her husband, John, going to garage sales, talking about her Ontario, Canada, hometown, being with her Florida snowbird friends and, last but not least, her Dutch Reform faith.

Paul's good friend, Margaret Vanderlaan, 72, who lived in nearby Sugar Creek Resorts and also was from Ontario, also had a husband named John, loved working with children and was also proud of her Dutch Reform faith.

These two friends were among the three women who died Sunday morning when they were struck by a Chevrolet Tahoe SUV whose driver accidentally backed into them in the parking lot of Sugar Creek Country Club, which serves as a church on Sunday mornings.

The third victim who died, Johanna Dijkhoff, 80, was a recent visitor to Manatee County from the Netherlands and was staying with her sister, Sugar Creek resident Dina Muller, said Pastor Gerrit Koedoot, who performed the non-denominational church service for the residents Sunday, as well as a later prayer vigil.

Four others were injured in the crash when Doreen E. Landstra of Palmetto backed up a 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe into a crowd of people who were standing and talking after the service.

It was Koedoot who talked about Paul, Vanderlaan and Dijkhoff on Monday because their families were still too shocked to be able to speak about them, the pastor said.

"They are in shock," Koedoot said. "The two spouses, John and John, told me they don't know what to do. You have to understand, these were people who were in the golden times of their lives. They were doing everything together. They had worked hard and now they were healthy and living to the full, doing the things they loved. The husbands are just lost. But the community will embrace them."

Koedoot was an eyewitness to the accident.

He had just gathered his Communion supplies after the service ended at 11 a.m. Sunday and was walking outside of the clubhouse with his wife, Ruth, when he saw the accident.

There had been 220 people in church on Sunday but 150 congregants had already left the building.

A group of a dozen or so lingered in the parking lot to talk, Koedoot said.

"They were just saying, 'Hi, welcome back, how are you doing?' " the pastor said.

Although he didn't see Landstra actually back out, he saw her stop her vehicle a safe distance from the crowd.

But then something went terribly wrong.

"She accelerated at great speed backwards," Koedoot said. "A man standing four feet away, well, she literally ran on top of him with both back and front wheels. Bodies were flying everywhere. I have never seen anything like this. We had never had anything like it in the park.

"I was in shock," the pastor continued. "Some were screaming."

Koedoot said Lanstra kept driving backward at high speed about 30 feet more, plunging right into Sugar Creek, where she and her husband sat in water, uninjured, until firemen could get them out later.

"She was also in shock when she came out of the vehicle," Koedoot added.

What made it more tragic for Koedoot is that Landstra was the director of the church choir at the clubhouse until she retired from it last year, the pastor said.

The pastor has known her for many years. He called her a loving person. He said she uses a walker but has been driving without problems. He said she is exceedingly sharp mentally with only some physical limitations.

"She must be burdened more than anyone else," Kooedot said of Landstra. "How do you deal with three deaths?"

Although the pastor has visited the families of the dead and has gone to the hospital to see the injured, he said he is waiting a little bit before he drives to see Landstra where she lives in a Palmetto mobile home park.

But it's a visit he said he will definitely make.

"We need to embrace her, too," Koedoot said.

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