Shands employee dies in crash
Published: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 at 10:52 p.m.
MORRISTON - A 29-year-old former Williston resident who worked at Shands Healthcare in Gainesville was killed and her 6-month-old child received minor injuries early Tuesday when the woman's SUV hit the back end of a stopped Levy County school bus.
A middle school student getting on the bus at the time of the crash received what emergency officials said were minor injuries.
Tiffany Poupard, 29, a resident of Dunnellon, was pronounced dead at the scene of the 7:05 a.m. wreck. Her daughter, Madelynn Poupard, was taken to Shands at the University of Florida for treatment of minor injuries.
A bystander was able to easily remove the baby from a baby seat that had been properly strapped into the left rear seat of the 2004 Toyota Highlander, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. However, firefighters worked for about an hour to extricate Tiffany Poupard's body from the SUV.
The collision happened in the northbound lane of U.S. 41 about 100 yards north of the Marion County line. The lane was closed to traffic for about 3 1/2 hours during the FHP investigation.
This fatal crash involving a school bus being rear-ended was the second such accident in the region this school year. On Sept. 23, a Marion County eighth-grader was killed when a semi-trailer slammed into the back of her school bus along U.S. 301 near Citra.
On Tuesday, FHP Lt. David M. Folsom said the Levy County bus driver, Tracy Haley, 34, had properly stopped the 1996 International school bus. In a preliminary report on the crash, the trooper wrote that it appeared Haley had done everything correctly in terms of activating flashing lights and extending the stop arms on the bus.
Folsom also emphasized that the baby survived the wreck because the infant was properly restrained in the SUV.
Folsom said the preliminary investigation indicated that the SUV had not braked - at least not much - before the crash and that it veered to the right and went under the back of the school bus.
The front of the Toyota was demolished by the impact of the collision. The back bumper of the bus appeared to have minor damage.
"We know that the bus, No. 9691, was going to Williston Middle School and had five children on board and two more were getting on the bus," said sheriff's Capt. Evan Sullivan. The bus passengers were between the ages of 12 and 15.
Lisa Ervin saw the collision from a few feet away. She was in her vehicle watching her son Michael Beach, 13, and daughter Melaina Beach, 16, climb aboard the bus.
"I don't think she even braked," said Ervin, who knows the accident victim's family. "I pretty much just saw her go under the bus."
Michael was on the first step when he saw the SUV coming, Ervin said, adding that the bus driver shouted for the kids to brace themselves.
The children - the five students already on board and Ervin's two children - were OK, though Michael's arm was bruised.
"He hit his arm because they bounced a little on impact," Ervin said.
"When I realized my children were OK, I could hear a child screaming," she said. "I ran around the side of the vehicle and saw the infant." Afraid that another car might come and rear-end the SUV, she took the baby out of the car seat.
Ervin said she could hear Poupard but couldn't see her. "I couldn't even touch her hand," Ervin said. "All I could do was tell her her baby girl was OK. Being a mother, (I knew) that's the thing she wanted to hear."
Tiffany Poupard, the daughter of Evelyn and Mark Poupard of Williston, was a 1998 graduate of Williston High School. She played the flute in the band and later helped out as a band booster and sponsor for the majorettes.
She graduated from Santa Fe Community College in 2000, her aunt Gail Poupard said, and from the University of South Florida in 2003. She was employed at Shands HealthCare in Gainesville, where she scheduled nurses for home visits.
On Tuesday morning, when the accident occurred, she was heading in to work and was driving her daughter from their home in Dunnellon to the baby-sitter in Williston.
Tiffany loved life and her many friends and her family - which had come to include her boyfriend, Shane Stevens, and his three children - and she loved baseball, said Gail Poupard.
"She was a ray of sunshine," Gail Poupard said.
At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Tiffany Poupard's 17-year-old brother, Andrew, had a baseball game with the Williston Red Devils. At first. the coach was going to cancel, Gail Poupard said, but instead the team was to take to the field and wear not their usual red, white and black, but lime green shirts and lime green ribbons.
Tiffany Poupard had been a huge supporter of the team, and lime green was her favorite hue.
Levy County Superintendent of Schools Robert Hastings activated the county's crisis response early Tuesday morning, which provided additional counselors for students and employees who wanted help dealing with the tragedy.
School Board spokesman Patrick Wnek said Haley, the bus driver, has been driving the middle school route for about 18 months.
Wnek said prior to that, Haley had worked for the rural district as a substitute driver for more than two years.
"She's a good bus driver," Lisa Ervin said. "She's always been cautious."
Wnek said it will be up to Haley to decide when she returns to her route. A substitute driver filled in for her on Tuesday afternoon.
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