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Former Holy Cross rowing coach cited in fatal Florida crash

Coach failed to yield and turned into path of an oncoming truck, police said.

Vero Beach police and Indian River County Fire Rescue responded to the crash.
Vero Beach police and Indian River County Fire Rescue responded to the crash.COREY ARWOOD/TCPalm.com via AP

Florida police issued former College of the Holy Cross rowing coach Patrick Diggins a traffic citation Tuesday for his role in a horrific crash last month that injured 13 people and killed rower Grace Rett.

Vero Beach police faulted Diggins for failing to yield to oncoming traffic, which resulted in a nearly head-on collision with a pickup truck traveling in the opposite direction, according to a police report released Tuesday afternoon. The violation is a noncriminal traffic citation and the investigation is considered closed, the report said. Police will now turn their findings over to local prosecutors for review.

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Diggins was behind the wheel of a rented 12-passenger Ford Transit van, transporting team members to practice at about 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 15. At the intersection of a busy, six-lane roadway, Diggins turned left on a green light, but he did not have a green turn arrow, the report said. He turned the van directly into the path of an oncoming 2005 Dodge Ram truck, which had a green light and the right of way, according to the report.

At the scene, Diggins allegedly told police: “Please let me have had a green light ... Did I have a green arrow? God please let me have had a green arrow."

In a later interview with police, Diggins said he turned into the intersection after looking up from a GPS device installed in the van’s dashboard and seeing the light had changed, the report said. Diggins told police someone in the van screamed as the truck approached, but he did not see it barreling toward them until just moments before the collision.

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

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Rett, a sophomore rower, was sitting in the front passenger seat of the van, near where the brunt of the impact occurred.

Diggins, who coached the Holy Cross women’s rowing team for 34 years, announced his retirement last week.

The former coach “continues to be grief-stricken about the loss and impact this accident has caused so many families,” his attorney, Christopher G. Lyons, said in a released statement Tuesday. Lyons added that police concluded that no criminal charges should be filed.

The school, which announced last month it would conduct its own internal review of the crash, said Tuesday that it will continue to offer support to students, coaches, and families in the “difficult months ahead.”

“Our hearts continue to be with the Rett family, and with all who have suffered physical and emotional injuries as a result of this crash.”

An overflow crowd of mourners, many of them dressed in Holy Cross colors, packed Rett’s funeral Mass in Uxbridge.

“We have been blessed beyond measure to have had Grace Mason Rett in our lives for twenty years,” the 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.”

Following the crash, Vero Beach officials sought changes to the traffic control systems on that stretch of the road, according to TCPalm.com, a local news outlet. Authorities are installing a new traffic signal, with a flashing yellow turn arrow, at the scene of the crash, the outlet reported. The new turn arrow will remind drivers to yield before turning left and is set to start operating on Sunday.

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Vernal Coleman can be reached at vernal.coleman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @vernalcoleman