Driver responsible for death of three outside Bradenton church loses license for a year

jdeleon@bradenton.comApril 3, 2014 

BRADENTON -- A woman cited for improper backing that resulted in three deaths and four more injured will have her driver's license taken away for one year.

Johanna Dijkhoff, 80; Margaret Vanderlaan, 72; and Wilhemina Paul, 70, all of Bradenton, were killed Feb. 2 when Doreene Landstra accidentally backed her SUV into a group of people leaving a church service in the Sugar Creek Country Club, according to Florida Highway Patrol.

Landstra, 79, pleaded no contest Wednesday morning to a civil traffic infraction. She stood with the aid of a walker by her attorney, Patrick Ford.

Landstra at first appeared unsure about her plea.

"If you prefer to think about it, I can set up another court date," Judge Robert Farrrance told her.

"We don't need another date," Ford said. "We just need a moment."

After conferring with her attorney and family members, Landstra decided to enter her plea.

Farrrance also ordered

Landstra to pay a $1,000 fine and $106 in court costs. Landstra will also need to pass an exam and fulfill all other requirements if she pursues renewing her driver's license after a year has passed.

One of the widowers from the accident was in the courtroom Tuesday morning.

"I want to stress I am not angry with Doreene," John Paul said. "She didn't mean to do it. It was an accident."

Paul stood outside the courthouse clutching a photo of his wife, Wilhemina, after the hearing.

"Just talking about it is hard," Paul said. "Everyone wants to know how it feels. They have all been very helpful."

Despite being forgiving, Paul did not agree with the punishment for Landstra.

"She should have had her license removed immediately," Paul said. "She should have stopped driving years ago, and this tragedy would never have happened."

The idea Landstra could get her driver's license back in a year also disturbed the grieving man.

"That is unacceptable," Paul said.

From across the Atlantic Ocean, Richard Vlasma waited for news of the fate of the driver who left his mother with a broken leg, five broken ribs and a broken shoulder blade. His mother, Els Vlasma-Hogenbirk, 75, and father, Gerrit Vlasma, 80, had just arrived in Bradenton from Schiermonnikoog in the northern Netherlands the day before the accident. The couple had been spending weeks every winter at the Sugar Creek Country Club for the past 20 years.

This year, their trip was cut tragically short.

After being plowed into by Landstra's SUV, his mother spent three and half weeks in a Manatee County hospital. Only then was she able to fly back home to the Netherlands, where she is continuing her recovery.

"She cannot remember much from the moment itself. She was unconscious for a while," Richard Vlasma said in an email. "My father has seen everything."

The couple's four children were all in Holland at the time of the accident.

His mother continues to suffer because of the shoulder injury, he said. His parents have suffered mental anguish from the accident trauma.

"What her chances of recovery are, we don't know yet," Richard Vlasma said. "She is still in therapy."

Wednesday's ruling seemed too light, he said.

"In Holland, this lady never drives a car again," he said. "Also, because she had a same accident a few years before, in my opinion she should never drive a car again."

On July 28, 2011, Landstra accidentally crashed her SUV into a McDonald's restaurant in Michigan when she hit the gas instead of the brake, colliding with the building as she was pulling into a parking space at a Michigan restaurant. She was not cited in that accident.

Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

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