FORT MYERS, Fla. (USA TODAY) — A car plowed into a church filled with 200 people celebrating Easter late Sunday, injuring 21 worshipers.
Fort Myers police responded to the chaotic scene shortly before 8 p.m. at the Second Haitian Baptist Church, Lt. Victor Medico said. When officers arrived, church members were using car jacks to try to lift the vehicle off churchgoers who were trapped underneath.
Mary Briggs, spokeswoman for Lee Memorial Health System, said 18 people were taken to Lee County hospitals.
Ten of the injured were taken to Lee Memorial Hospital, one of which was discharged late Sunday. None of them required surgery, Briggs said.
Three people were sent to Gulf Coast Medical Center and five were sent to HealthPark Medical Center. Of those at HealthPark, three were children.
Medico said the crash occurred after a young Haitian woman driving a Lexus turned into the parking lot and tried to park.
"Everybody was sitting and the service started and then 'BING' the car came in," said Jean Corjeles, who was in the church when the crash happened.
"So many people are injured," he said.
"I heard the building pop and saw a car pushing in," said Nicholas Plancher, another church member.
The word of the crash spread quickly, bringing relatives and other parishioners to the church parking lot.
"I had family in the church, but I don't know if they're hurt. They didn't call me and I can't call them," said Eddy Boice, who was walking around seeking information about 9:30 p.m.
Through the large breach in the brick building where a window was, colored balloons festooned the walls and rubble covered folding chairs.
Medico said early reports described the vehicle coming into the parking lot looking for a space, "Then drove straight into the building," he said, adding that the driver said the brakes malfunctioned.
"The car failed to turn into the space and crashed into pews holding 30 to 40 people," Medico said.
He added that homicide investigators were involved in looking into the crash even though he termed it as "an unfortunate traffic accident."
"This is an abnormal type of incident, to see a vehicle go all the way into a building," said Benjamin Abes, Lee County EMS operations chief.
Abes and Medico said the building was not in danger of collapse.
Rey Louie, 25, a friend of church member Joseph Shooby, came to the church looking for his friend. "He has a hole in his head and his dad hasn't regained consciousness," he said.
A woman at the scene said her brother, Michela Joseph, was hurt and in a hospital.
"He was hurt, and he hasn't talked to anyone yet,"she said.
Gean Lima, a longtime Fort Myers churchgoer, said the church has been at its location for about five years.
But Lima is concerned about how people will feel even after the church wall is rebuilt and the physical injuries have healed.
"There was just so many people crying," he said.
Contributing: News-Press reporters Frank Gluck, Andrea Rumbaugh and Ashley A. Smith