Bowl-bound Gators hit by drunken driver


Published: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 7, 2007 at 11:17 p.m.

A near head-on crash with a drunken driver in Texas could not keep four Gator fans — three University of Florida seniors and a recent graduate — from continuing their trek to the national championship in Arizona.

Following a detour through a hospital emergency room near Junction, Texas, Nissa Stuart, her fiance Alexis Otero and their friends Brittany Vitter and Kent Houghtaling hitched a ride with an emergency room nurse to see an eye specialist, then convinced Houghtaling's dad to drive them the rest of the way to Arizona.

"After the wreck there was no need for us to talk it over. We all wanted to keep going and so we did," said Stuart in a phone interview with The Sun from Arizona.

Otero was at the wheel of Stuart's 2005 Honda CRV when the accident happened at about 6 a.m. on Saturday, one day after the group left from Gainesville. Otero said he swerved to avoid another car being driven the wrong way on a one-way road. The other driver apparently swerved too and wound up sideswiping the Honda.

"We spun around about three times but landed on a hill so that kept us from rolling over," Stuart said. In addition to being arrested for driving drunk, the driver of the other vehicle was also arrested on an outstanding DUI warrant.

Stuart, 22, had been sleeping in the back seat of the Honda and wound up with a whiplash. Vitter, 22, was also sleeping in the back seat and doctors told her she had a fractured bone in her face.

Houghtaling, 23, the front seat passenger, was badly bruised. Otero, 24, who recently graduated with a degree in food science and human nutrition, was sent to an eye specialist 45 miles east of the hospital because so many glass fragments had found their way into his face and eyes. A nurse who had been called in to help out in the emergency room when the four arrived offered to drive Otero and his friends to the specialist.

Houghtaling's dad, Stewart Houghtaling, received his chemical engineering degree from UF in 1988 and lived less than six hours away.

The elder Houghtaling set aside his plans for the weekend to drive the four to Arizona, then decided to stay with a friend and try to scrounge up a ticket for himself. He was still ticket hunting late Sunday.

"He understood when we told him we really wanted to get to the game," Stuart said.

Stuart's mom, Inger Stuart, who lives in Inverness and is a 1978 UF graduate with a degree in public relations, said as soon as she heard that her daughter and the others were OK, she knew they would continue on to the game.

"I started going to Gator games when I was 12 and I am 50 now, so she was raised to be that way," Inger Stuart said of her daughter. "Some people may think it's crazy, but we understood it."

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