Drunken Orlando woman who parked on train tracks saved before crash, cops say

Two good Samaritans rescued an apparently intoxicated woman from her car, parked on the Washington Street railroad tracks in downtown Orlando, moments before a train slammed into the back of the vehicle, police said.

Maria Espiet, 34, of Orlando, was arrested Thursday morning and charged with DUI property damage or personal injury.

She told police that she was coming from “Wall Street” off Orange Avenue in downtown Orlando before the crash.

Asked if she was aware that her car was sitting on the railroad tracks, “Espiet stated no,” police said.

Espiet told police she had three drinks earlier, and ranked herself as a “4″ on a sobriety scale of 0 to 10 — with 0 being sober and 10 being impaired.

Two witnesses saw Espiet drive onto the train tracks around 4 a.m.

As they saw the CSX locomotive heading toward Espiet’s black Mitsubishi, which was facing northbound on the tracks, they ran to the car to help her get out, an incident report said.

“When they attempted to remove Espiet from the vehicle, she resisted them,” police said.

Once out of the car, Espiet turned around and watched the train hit the back of her car, which was still running at the time, the report said.

Police said Espiet’s blood-alcohol level was 0.163 — two times the legal limit.

twalden@tribune.com, or 407-420-5620

Train, car crash in downtown Orlando


ORLANDO, Fla. –

A busy downtown street reopened early Thursday after an accident involving a car and a train blocked the roadway for nearly two hours.

The accident happened after 3 a.m. near the railroad crossing at Washington Street, which is located between Orange Avenue and Garland Avenue.

Video from the accident scene showed a dark-colored two-door coupe parked on the tracks directly in front of a CSX locomotive.  Police said the cause of the accident is under investigation.

Damage to both the train and car appeared to be minor.  No injuries were reported.

The driver of the car was given a field sobriety test shortly after the crash and was arrested on suspicion of DUI.

Hit-and-run arrest in fatal Kissimmee crash

A motorist who admitted being the driver in a fatal Kissimmee hit-and-run crash was arrested today, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Gabrielle, Marie Saez-Castellano was charged with failure to stop and remain at a crash involving death, a first-degree felony, records show.

Saez-Castellano, 27, told FHP traffic homicide investigators she was responsible for the death Sunday of Rafael Cotto. She admitted striking the 65-year-old pedestrian on Monday after a tip led troopers to her severely damaged green 2003 Kia Spectra, records show.

“Its right rearview mirror was missing and it also had windshield damages which (were) consistent with a crash involving a pedestrian,” her arrest report stated. “She was read her Miranda rights and she admitted to driving (the car) at time of the crash. In addition, she dozed off and drifted off the roadway and struck a pole.”

The crash near the corner of Carroll Street and Orange Blossom was 2.5 miles from Saez-Castellano’s home in Kissimmee.

She was being booked this afternoon at the Osceola County Jail.

Hcurtis@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5257.

Hit-and-run arrest in fatal Kissimmee crash

A motorist who admitted being the driver in a fatal Kissimmee hit-and-run crash was arrested today, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Gabrielle, Marie Saez-Castellano was charged with failure to stop and remain at a crash involving death, a first-degree felony, records show.

Saez-Castellano, 27, told FHP traffic homicide investigators she was responsible for the death Sunday of Rafael Cotto. She admitted striking the 65-year-old pedestrian on Monday after a tip led troopers to her severely damaged green 2003 Kia Spectra, records show.

“Its right rearview mirror was missing and it also had windshield damages which (were) consistent with a crash involving a pedestrian,” her arrest report stated. “She was read her Miranda rights and she admitted to driving (the car) at time of the crash. In addition, she dozed off and drifted off the roadway and struck a pole.”

The crash near the corner of Carroll Street and Orange Blossom was 2.5 miles from Saez-Castellano’s home in Kissimmee.

She was being booked this afternoon at the Osceola County Jail.

Hcurtis@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5257.

Lynx Lymmo bus crash blocks downtown Orlando streets

Drivers may want to avoid Orange Avenue and Livingston Street in downtown Orlando, where a bus crash has lanes blocked.

The crash involving a Lynx Lymmo downtown shuttle bus happened about 7:30 p.m., according to Orlando police.

A sport utility vehicle hit the left front of the free bus, which appears to have been eastbound on Livingston Street.

A small car hit the left side of the bus, which circulates throughout downtown.

The SUV and car apparently were southbound on Orange Avenue near the Orange County Courthouse.

There was no immediate report of injuries

This article will be updated as more information becomes available.

sjacobson@tribune.com or 407-540-5981

Man shoots arrows with teeth to win archery competition

Michigan Man Shoots Bow With Teeth, Wins National Championship

A Michigan man shoots arrows with his teeth to win an archery competition.

That’s the story of Joe Wiseman, who lost the use of his right arm in an ATV accident in 2003 when he was 19. He enjoyed bow hunting before his crash, but he thought his days with a bow and arrow were over after his accident.

But he saw something on the internet about using your teeth to pull back the bow and align the arrow, and he started working on that skill. He’s done pretty well and won a shooting competition last week.

Watch the video to see how he does it.

Roger Simmons is the executive sports editor for the Orlando Sentinel. You can reach him via email at rsimmons@orlandosentinel.com. Or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/@rogersimmons. Become a fan of the Orlando Sentinel Sports Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/orlandosentinelsports

Roger Simmons is the executive sports editor for the Orlando Sentinel. You can reach him via email at rsimmons@orlandosentinel.com. Or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/@rogersimmons. Become a fan of the Orlando Sentinel Sports Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/orlandosentinelsports

Car seized in fatal Kissimmee hit-and-run crash

A green mirror found near Rafael Cotto’s shattered body early Sunday on Orange Blossom Trail in Kissimmee fit exactly on a damaged car seized today, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Towed to FHP headquarters in Orlando, the green Kia Spectra’s windshield had been crushed by striking a large object that sheared off the missing exterior mirror on the passenger door.

Traffic homicide investigators took the mirror with them after receiving a tip that the damaged car found near the death scene might be the one that struck Cotton.

“It matches,” said FHP spokeswoman Sgt. Kim Montes.

Cotton, 65, was found about 7:50 a.m. Sunday near the corner of OBT and Carroll Street. He had been on one of his daily walks on grass bordering the roadway when he was struck from behind. He died shortly after paramedics arrived, Montes said.

“In the majority of crashes it’s the pedestrians’ fault but this is not the case,” Montes said. “He was well off the roadway.”

Several other tips about cars possibly involved in Cotto’s death were ruled out Sunday. The green Kia was found at a Kissimmee apartment complex after an anonymous tip was called into local law enforcement.

Its owner, an unidentified woman in her 20′s, spoke to FHP investigators and gave them permission to take the car to examine for evidence in Cotto’s death, said Montes. What she said was not disclosed.

“The owner is the only person of interest at this time is cooperating with investigators,” Montes wrote in a crash report. “This crash remains under investigation and charges are pending.”

hcurtis@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5257.

Paralyzed in Orlando crash, racing’s Sam Schmidt still defying odds

He stands as a testament to the unlimited power of the mind and the heart, proof that no obstacle can prevent one from having an impactful life.

Fourteen years after a crash in winter testing at Walt Disney World Speedway rendered him a quadriplegic, Sam Schmidt is a force in both IndyCar racing and the fight to cure paralysis.

It’s only technically true that Schmidt – whose racing team has two cars entered in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – is confined to a wheelchair. For “confined” doesn’t describe Schmidt at all.

This year, the husband and father of two from Las Vegas will spend about 150 days on the road, traveling for his racing operation, the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation and BraunAbility, which builds wheelchair vans and lifts and other accessories.

“I’m dumbfounded by what he’s able to do,” said former Indy 500 winner Eddie Cheever, who raced against Schmidt in the 1990s and will help call Sunday’s race for ABC-TV. “I have a hard time even thinking about it, because to think about it, I have to put myself in that position. I struggle mentally for even five minutes to think of what it must be like.”

What Schmidt lacks in mobility he has more than made up for with intellect, savvy and people skills. His managerial acumen has surprised no one, given that he has an MBA in International Finance from Pepperdine and was working as a hospital administrator by age 24. What has been a surprise, given his limitations, is what a thorn in the side he has become to those who have to race against him.

Treated the same

Besides collecting a record seven championships in Indy Lights, the sport’s top minor league, the team Schmidt now co-owns with Canadian businessman Ric Peterson has made major headway in only three seasons of full-time competition in IndyCar.

Lead driver Simon Pagenaud won two races and finished third in the points last year, tweaking the egos of established powerhouses Chip Ganassi Racing, Team Penske and Andretti Autosport. Rookie Mikhail Aleshin, the first Russian to compete in IndyCar, will also race for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports on Sunday.

“Sam’s a smart guy and he’s very cerebral about racing,” said Ganassi, whose teams have won five of the last six IndyCar titles. “He thinks things through quite a bit. In the conversations I’ve had with him, I’m – he’s a competitor and I treat him as one.”

That Schmidt would have it no other way is practically unspoken.

“It’s funny, because I look at this as my reason for getting up in the morning,” Schmidt, 49, said. “It’s a 2 1/2-hour process getting up in the morning. But I have still have a passion for motor sports, especially open wheel racing, so that’s kind of what happens in my head every day.”

Schmidt acknowledges that his commitment was severely tested at the end of 2011. St. Petersburg’s Dan Wheldon was driving a car prepared by Schmidt’s team when he was killed in the season finale at Las Vegas. Schmidt says the tragedy shook him so badly he seriously considered getting out.

“It was just like this monster kick in the gut, and I’m thinking, ‘is it really worth it? Is it what I wanted to do?’ “ Schmidt said. “The answer, ultimately, was a resounding yes.”

Catastrophic, but avoidable

Cheever was at the Disney track on January 2000 when Schmidt’s car backed into the outside wall in turn 2.

Had the driver’s seat been constructed properly, Cheever and others say, Schmidt probably wouldn’t have been paralyzed.

“In those days, we weren’t taking as much care as we should have with the seats,” Cheever said. “They would end here (head-level), and that would be on your helmet, so the energy would go to the weakest spot, which would be your neck.”

Schmidt suffered a severe injury to his spinal cord between the third and fourth vertebrae. He and spent five weeks on a respirator. Later, he would say he didn’t remember anything about the crash, but he could remember someone telling his family to find a nursing home for him.

After 27 starts and a win at Las Vegas in the fledgling Indy Racing league, Schmidt’s racing career was done. Or so it seemed. But in 2001, after being inspired by paraplegic Formula One team owner Frank Williams, Schmidt formed Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

“I was very fortunate when I started the team because I was able to pick up the phone and call Darrell Gwynn,” Schmidt said of the Top Fuel drag racing star from Miami who was paralyzed in a 1990 crash and continued as a team owner. “At that time, Darrell had 10 years of experience on how to get around with a wheelchair. He gave me a lot of good insight. Whether it was flying, driving or getting around on land, he really helped my learning curve.”

Schmidt flies from city to city with the help of a retired fireman and, it can be noted, raves about Southwest Airlines. Two personal assistants help him get to and from the tracks and situated in his hotel rooms. The $30,000 wheelchair he uses at the tracks is maneuverable with head movements.

Supporting research

When he isn’t managing or working the business end of the race team, Schmidt is often advocating for stem cell research or representing his foundation. The foundation, started by Schmidt and friends who wanted to see him cured, has raised millions of dollars to support spinal cord injury research. A major new initiative is coming this year, Schmidt says.

And there has been progress. Since actor Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in 1999 in an equestrian accident and founded the Christopher Reeve Foundation, much has been learned. Reeve died in 2004.

“He was the first one to start pushing hard and saying, ‘well why?’ Why is this? Why is that?’ “ Schmidt said. “He started pushing the research community to do more, and I genuinely think we’ve accomplished more in the last five years than in probably the previous 15.”

Schmidt has always believed he will walk again, always believed he will walk his daughter, Savannah, now 16, down the aisle. He says he has never regretted taking the risks he did driving a race car.

“If given the option, I certainly wouldn’t want to be in this chair,” he said. “But I know that because I’m in this chair, I’m able to help thousands of people with our foundation and still participate in a sport I love. And I can still watch my kids grow up.

“So it could be better, but at the same time it could be a heck of a lot worse.”

Member of Gov. Scott’s security detail in minor wreck





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Traffic: I-4, SR 408 delays through downtown

Routine delays are being reported on Interstate 4 and State Road 408 through downtown Orlando this morning.

Eastbound I-4 congestion is reported from Orange Blossom Trail to Colonial Drive.

A disabled vehicle on I-4 at S.R. 408 is causing additional backups.

Authorities also report congestion on westbound I-4 from Lake Mary Boulevard to SR 423.

Delays on SR 408 are reported westbound, from Mills Avenue to I-4.

Elsewhere in Central Florida, a crash on Orange Blossom Trail at Princeton Street is causing roadblock.