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Ontario Snowbirds Killed in 'Freak Accident' in Florida

Witnesses say driver sped into group of seven people

A tight-knit community of snowbirds in Florida were in mourning Tuesday after three elderly women - two of them Canadians - were killed in what appeared to be a horrific freak accident.

Residents of the mobile home community of Bradenton were leaving a Sunday church service at the Sugar Creek Country Club when a 79-year-old woman driving an SUV backed into a group of seven people at high speed.

Seventy-two-year-old Margaret Vanderlaan and 70-year-old Wilhemina Paul, both from Ontario, and 80-year-old Johanna Dijkhoff, who was visiting her Canadian sister from the Netherlands, were killed.

Four others, including a 67-year-old Ontario woman, were seriously injured in what bystanders recalled as traumatic chain of events.

Pastor Gerrit Koedoot recalls an SUV backing out of a parking spot, pulling forward and then needing more room to clear another parked vehicle. At that point he said the SUV began backing up again ``at great speed.''

The vehicle ran straight through a group of pedestrians, over a curb, collided with some trees and finally came to a stop after splashing into a canal.

Vanderlaan and Paul, both good friends, had been spending the winter in Florida for years, as have most of the community's other residents.

Members of their families rushed to Bradenton after hearing of the accident, said Koedoot, adding that Vanderlaan's husband and children were believed to be headed back to Canada Tuesday for her funeral. Paul's family was expected to do the same later this week.

Florida police have said the incident wasn't alcohol related, and no charges have been laid against the driver of the SUV, who has been identified as Doreen Landstra, of Palmetto, Fla.

Witnesses told the local paper Landstra apparently thought she had the car in drive - and not reverse - when she pressed the gas pedal. Neither she nor the passenger in her vehicle were injured.

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