Ragdoll facility

Van de Putte ‘cartwheeled’, thrown ‘like a rag doll’ when hit by SUV in Florida

Former Texas State Senator Leticia Van de Putte ‘literally cartwheeled through the air’ for a horizontal distance of at least 10 feet ‘like a rag doll’ before landing on her head on a roadway after being hit by a large sport utility vehicle in the Orlando area two weeks ago, a witness to the crash said.

The Tampa woman who saw the incident and immediately stopped to help Van de Putte gave a statement to Florida Highway Patrol and is listed in the accident report as a witness. She asked that her name not be published by the San Antonio Express-News.

The witness said she was surprised that Van de Putte was not paralyzed and expressed amazement that the former elected official’s injuries did not worsen because she landed on her head.

“It was pretty bad,” the Tampa woman said of the crash. Despite this, Van de Putte “was very consistent… She was extremely calm. She wasn’t crying.

The driver, a 43-year-old man who lives in South Elgin, Ill., did not return a phone call or text message from the Express-News seeking comment.

The official accident report released Friday by the Florida Highway Patrol says the driver did not yield the right of way.

Charges are pending against the driver, law enforcement officials said. Failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk is a civil traffic violation, not a criminal charge, said Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Kim Montes. Such a violation usually results in a fine and points on the offender’s driver’s license, Montes said.

Van de Putte, 67, a well-known San Antonio politician who served 24 years in the Texas Legislature and a former candidate for lieutenant governor, remains in good condition at Bexar County University Hospital, where she was transferred on April 7. She suffered numerous broken bones and a blow to the head when the SUV hit her.

The accident happened at 2:13 p.m. on April 3, the day after Van de Putte and her husband, Pete, had planned to return home from Orlando to San Antonio after a cruise. But their flight and hundreds of others were canceled over the weekend due to bad weather and technology issues. They decided to stay at a hotel about 15 miles west of the Orlando airport.

Because their luggage had already been airlifted, the former senator and her husband went out that Sunday to buy essentials and walked to separate destinations.

Leticia Van de Putte was walking through a designated crosswalk at a major intersection and had a pedestrian signal indicating it was time for her to cross when she was hit by a 2017 Nissan Armada being driven by the man in the Illinois, which was turning right, the official accident report shows.

The driver told a Florida state trooper that he “momentarily looked down,” but the police report gives no further details as to what prompted the action or what he was looking at. “As a result,” the left front part of his vehicle struck Van de Putte on his left side, according to the accident report.

“She literally cartwheeled through the air and landed right on her head,” the witness from Tampa said. “I got out of my car and ran to her and just held her hands until (the ambulance) arrived.

“She went flying – I’d say it was probably a good 10 feet (horizontally)… It was quite a distance.”

Van de Putte initially said nothing when the witness and others stopped to help him.

“I ran up to her and said, ‘Don’t move,'” the witness said. “A bunch of other people came too, and I said, ‘Please don’t move her.'”

Someone asked Van de Putte her name and if there was anyone they could call for her. She provided her name and her husband’s cell phone number.

“She said, ‘I don’t have any medical conditions. I’m perfectly healthy. I’m a pharmacist. I remember her saying that,’ the witness from Tampa said. “And then I prayed with her and I held her hand, and she said, “Thank you for praying with me.”

Although Van de Putte remained calm and coherent, the witness was very concerned about the head injury.

“She had a huge mark on her head,” the Tampa woman said, noting that the wound was high up on Van de Putte’s forehead, near the hairline. “It was more than the size of a golf ball – it was very, very big.

“She said at one point ‘My head’ and then put her hand on her head and saw the blood. And I was like ‘Yes, you have a big head wound.’ But she was extremely calm about what had happened. I don’t know if she was shocked or if she even knew what had happened. I don’t really know.

The driver who hit Van de Putte with his vehicle was extremely distraught and crying as he held the former senator’s other hand, the witness said.

“He kept saying he was sorry over and over and over again – ‘I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry’ – kissed her hand, he just kept holding her hand. It was just awful,” the Tampa woman recalled. “I also prayed with him later, when (the ambulance) came…He stayed the whole time.”

The driver was vacationing in Florida with his family and driving to a grocery store while his family stayed at their hotel pool, the witness said.

He was heading east on Daryl Carter Parkway and began turning right onto Regency Village Drive when his vehicle struck Van de Putte, who was walking north in a designated crosswalk at the intersection.

The witness interviewed Friday was unaware that Van de Putte was a longtime elected official in Texas and asked about the extent of her injuries. “Since then, I pray for her. I thought of her,” the Tampa woman said. “Did she have a lot of broken bones?”

Van de Putte suffered fractures to her pelvic region, two broken ribs, compressed vertebrae in her lower back, a subdural brain hematoma and lacerations to her arms and legs, her husband told the Express- News the day after the accident. Despite this, she never lost consciousness at the scene of the accident. None of his internal organs were punctured and his hips were not broken.

The witness was surprised that it was not worse.

“The way his body was flying – it was like a rag doll in the air,” she said. “God was definitely there. I’m surprised she wasn’t paralyzed, with the way she landed on her head like that.

The driver was not believed to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs and was not tested for such substances, according to the Florida Highway Patrol accident report.

The police report indicates that Van de Putte did nothing improper.

Van de Putte is a top Democrat who served as a state representative from 1991 to 1999 and then as a state senator from 1999 to March 2015.

She was the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Texas in 2014 as the running mate of Wendy Davis, who ran for Governor of Texas. Both women lost this election to Dan Patrick and Greg Abbott, respectively.

In 2015, Van de Putte narrowly lost a bid for mayor of San Antonio to Ivy Taylor.

She is now president of a consulting and lobbying firm, Andrade-Van de Putte & Associates, which she co-founded with her friend, former Texas secretary of state Hope Andrade.

Public records show that Van de Putte and her husband live in Castle Hills.

pohare@express-news.net | Twitter: Peggy_OHare