A Bradenton couple traveling to visit family for Christmas were killed in a car accident on Christmas Eve near Flatlick, Ky., and police are investigating whether alcohol was a factor in the collision that also claimed three other lives.
Brent Robinson, son of Rhonda and Don Robinson, a former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher, and Julia Robinson, a Manatee County Schools speech therapist, died with Julia Robinson's parents when another vehicle struck their car head-on around 5 p.m. Monday in Knox County, Ky.
David Vanderpool, 31, was driving north on U.S. 25E when he swiftly crossed the median, his passenger side striking the front of the 2010 Toyota Camry driven by Gary Caldwell, 61. Vanderpool's 2004 Ford Taurus rolled over the top of the Caldwell vehicle, which also held his wife, Patricia, 58, and the Robinsons.
Vanderpool was also killed in the crash. Terry Caldwell, brother of Gary Caldwell, said police told his cousin that Vanderpool's car was "running from 80 to 90 miles per hour," according to the Lexington (Ky.) Herald Leader.
Never miss a local story.
Kentucky State Police Detective Michael Cornett, an accident reconstructionist, told the Bradenton Herald that no one was alive when he and others from the Kentucky State Police and the Knox County Sheriff's Office arrived at the scene 13 minutes after they received a call at 5:20 p.m. Alcohol was found from one of the vehicles, Cornett said, but wouldn't elaborate on which one until police determine if alcohol played a role in the collision. Blood tests were taken from all involved and will be sent to police crime, he said, and results could take weeks.
But the time of the wreck, Knox County deputies had been looking for Vanderpool's car because of a report of an impaired driver, Cornett told the Herald Leader.
Though the Caldwells were wearing seatbelts, the Robinsons and Vanderpool were not.
"We're a very rural community," Cornett told the Bradenton Herald on Wednesday. "To get five fatalities is an exception to the norm."
According to the Herald Leader, Terry Caldwell said Gary and Patty Caldwell were returning home from Lexington, where they had picked up their daughter and son-in-law, who had flown in for Christmas. The Caldwells were going to get the whole family together for Christmas dinner at 3 p.m., he said.
He said Tuesday to the Herald Leader that the reality of the deaths in the family hadn't begun to sink in.
"They were outstanding, wonderful people," he said.
Brent Robinson graduated from Manatee High School in 2001, before graduating from the University of South Florida with a computer science degree in 2006. According to his Facebook page, he worked for Emerson Electric Company. Julia Robinson had worked at R.H. Prine Elementary School for the past five years.
Former Manatee High School baseball coach Al Melnick thinks the first time he met Brent Robinson might have been in Little League camp, but he knows his first real impression of Robinson was when he began playing baseball for Manatee High as freshman, before moving on to varsity his junior and senior years.
"He was a fun-loving kid that loved to be on the baseball field," Melnick told the Bradenton Herald. "Always had a smile on his face. And the family was awesome..."
Don and Rhonda Robinson were always at games, he said, and involved with fundraising for the team. Don Robinson pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates when they won the World Series in 1979, and for the San Francisco Giants. He often played at McKechnie Field in Bradenton.
Both his sons, Brent and his older brother Brad Robinson, played baseball at Manatee High School. But Melnick remembers Brent's humor.
"He loved to crack jokes. Especially when you were trying to have a serious conversation about something," Melnick said. "You couldn't help but like his enthusiasm. I'm sure he approached his adult life like that, too."
R.H. Prine Elementary School Principal Guy Grimes told Bay News 9 that the school community had greatly respected and admired Julia Robinson.
"It's like losing a sister," he said. "We're heartbroken. We'll keep on working to honor her. We lost a family member."
Bay News 9 also reported that Don Robinson and his family traveled to Kentucky on Wednesday morning for Gary and Patricia Caldwell's burial. Brent and Julia Robinson will be buried in Bradenton.
Gary Caldwell was the finance director for the Letcher County school system, and Patty Caldwell was an assistant principal at James A. Cawood Elementary School in Harlan County.
Gary and Patricia Caldwell are survived by an adult son, Scott Caldwell of Georgetown, Terry Caldwell said told the Herald Leader. He said Scott Caldwell was driving to his parents' house Monday night and was rerouted around the accident scene.
When he got to the house, no one answered the door or phone calls, the Herald Leader reported.
"He knew something was wrong so he turned around and went back to where the wreck was at. It was his mom and his dad and his sister," Terry Caldwell said, his voice cracking. "State police stopped him. They saw him coming on foot and they knew not to let him go any further."
Katy Bergen, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. The Lexington Herald Leader and Bay News 9 contributed to this report.