FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis is striking a calmer tone after his initial reaction to this weekend’s deadly crash at the Stonewall Pride Parade in Wilton Manors.
“It’s terrible. They’re laying on the ground. This is clearly a terrorist act against the LGBT community,” the mayor said on Saturday. “This is disgusting, this is why we are fearful of our lives.”
Police later confirmed that was not the case as their investigation revealed the Saturday night crash was likely a horrible accident.
Trantalis then walked back his comments during a vigil for the victims on Sunday.
“I immediately knew that something terrible was happening. My visceral reaction was that we were being attacked,” he said. “It was a moment that so many images flashed through my head.”
Trantalis said he believed the incident was another random attack on the LGBTQ community and he was worried for the safety of U.S. Rep. Debbie Wassermann Schultz, who was nearly hit by the pickup truck as well.
“I regret the fact that I said it was a terrorist attack because we found that it was not, but I don’t regret my feelings,” the mayor said. “I don’t regret that I felt terrorized by someone who plowed through the crowd.”
On Monday, the mayor told Local 10 News that the driver responsible for the crash was the person who should be apologizing.
“Let’s focus on what really happened, and what happened was that someone was killed,” he said. “So the apology goes to him and his family and his friends and the people that knew him. That’s where the apology needs to come from. The apology needs to come from the person who perpetrated this act, OK? You know, it’s not about Dean Trantalis. It’s about what really happened and we need to focus on that.”
According to Fort Lauderdale police, the 77-year-old driver had ailments that prevented him from walking in the parade, so he was selected to drive the lead vehicle.
“From what I understand is he had a problem with his leg and that’s why he didn’t walk in the parade. So he was riding in the truck, or driving the truck, his (foot) fell off the brake, got stuck behind the brake and was lodged into the accelerator,” Wilton Manors Mayor Scott Newton said.
Police said the vehicle accelerated unexpectedly as it moved forward in anticipation of the start of the parade, striking two men.
“It was a pure and simple accident,” Newton said.
The victims were rushed to Broward Health Medical Center with serious injuries by Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue.
One of the victims was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital.
An evening vigil was held Sunday for the victims at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.
The senior minister witnessed the tragedy.
“We hear this strange sound, kind of like a car accelerating, and then we hear crashing noises and as we turn around to see -- we see a truck sort of plowing through trees and plants,” Durrell Watkins said.
Police said the elderly driver, who is a member of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus, remained at the scene and has been cooperating with investigators.
The victims are also members of the chorus.