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Witnesses say Holy Cross coach turned left into oncoming traffic before fatal crash

“God please let me have had a green arrow,” Patrick Diggins said after the Jan. 15 collision, according to a Florida police report.

Vero Beach police and Indian River County Fire Rescue responded to a crash at the base of the Barber Bridge, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020, in Vero Beach, Fla. The crash involved members of the women's rowing team from College of the Holy Cross.
Vero Beach police and Indian River County Fire Rescue responded to a crash at the base of the Barber Bridge, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020, in Vero Beach, Fla. The crash involved members of the women's rowing team from College of the Holy Cross.COREY ARWOOD/TCPalm.com via AP

Moments after last week’s horrific crash, as paramedics extracted injured members of the Holy Cross rowing team from inside a crushed passenger van, the coach who drove the vehicle allegedly blurted out a plea.

“Please let me have had a green light,” Coach Patrick Diggins said, according to a police report released Thursday. “Did I have a green arrow? God please let me have had a green arrow.”

Witnesses later told police that Diggins had turned left on a green light, failed to yield to oncoming traffic, and sparked a tragic early morning crash in Vero Beach, Florida, that injured 13 people and killed Holy Cross rower Grace Rett.

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Diggins, 55, made the remark spontaneously that morning in the presence of a police officer, as medics rushed him and other survivors into helicopters and ambulances bound for local hospitals, the report says.

The report makes clear that the traffic light at the intersection included both a green signal and a green arrow signal. Witnesses told police that Diggins turned left on green, but without the arrow that would have given him the clear right of way.

Florida authorities continued to investigate the crash Thursday, and are awaiting the results of an autopsy and additional interviews with witnesses, said Officer Darrell Rivers, spokesman for the Vero Beach Police Department.

Police have yet to interview Diggins. “Right now, we’re investigating it only as a traffic accident,” Rivers said.

Police will eventually turn their findings over to prosecutors for consideration.

Diggins’s Florida-based attorney, Christopher G. Lyons, said Thursday via e-mail that his client remains “grief stricken about the tragic accident." Lyons added that Diggins "has expressed his deep condolences to the Rett family, to the injured members of the team, and to all of the other family members affected by this tragedy. All of them are in his continuing prayers. Coach Diggins is fully cooperating with the ongoing police investigation in Florida.”

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Holy Cross issued a statement Thursday evening, saying "Our community has suffered a tremendous loss and our focus remains on our students, their families and the women’s rowing team who are grieving for their teammate. We have received the preliminary accident report, and will continue to cooperate with Florida authorities who are conducting the investigation.''

Twenty-two members of the Holy Cross crew team and its coaches were traveling in a two-van convoy on Jan. 15, heading to practice at a nearby training camp.

Diggins was driving and Rett, 20, rode shotgun in the lead vehicle. She wore a seat belt, officials believe.

Around 7:30 a.m., the van turned left on a green light, cutting across the four-lane highway. An oncoming red Dodge pickup truck collided head-on with the front passenger section of the 12-passenger Ford Transit van.

The driver of the truck told police that Diggins appeared to be “looking down and not looking at the roadway as he pulled out" into the path of pickup truck.

A witness in another vehicle nearby corroborated that account, saying the van’s actions left no way for the truck driver to avoid a collision.

Stephanie Ricker, a Holy Cross assistant coach who was driving the second team van behind Diggins, told police the light was green when Diggins turned into the roadway, according to the report. She said she "did not observe a green arrow for them to make a left and proceed on to the bridge.”

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Diggins was one of eight taken to Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Fort Pierce following the crash, with the three most seriously injured flown by helicopter. Six of those patients, including Diggins, have since been released, hospital spokeswoman Tiffany Woods said Thursday.

Of the remaining two, both students, one remains in treatment at the hospital and was recently upgraded to serious condition. The team members not injured in the crash were flown back to Massachusetts last week.

Hill, the school’s spokesman, has declined to say whether Diggins has returned to work. Following the crash, Hill said Holy Cross would conduct an internal review into the circumstances of the crash, but did not provide additional details.

On Monday, Hannah Strom, a Holy Cross sophomore from Marion who was also injured in the crash, was airlifted from Lawnwood to Mass General in Boston “to continue her recovery,” the college said.

A funeral Mass for Rett was said Wednesday at St. Mary’s Church in Uxbridge, her hometown.

“We have been blessed beyond measure to have had Grace Mason Rett in our lives for twenty years,” Rett’s family wrote in the funeral program. “We would never have been able to get through these past days without the incredible love that has been shown us.”

Zoe Greenberg of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.


Vernal Coleman can be reached at vernal.coleman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @vernalcoleman Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.