Police investigating Christmas Eve crash that killed 5 in Knox County

bestep@herald-leader.comjkegley@herald-leader.comDecember 25, 2012 

Clockwise from left, Gary Caldwell, Patricia Caldwell and their daughter, Julia Robinson, were among the victims in a wreck that killed five people in Knox County Monday.

Police are investigating whether alcohol or drugs played a role in a Christmas Eve wreck in Knox County in which five people died, including four members of one family.

David Vanderpool, 31, of Williamsburg was driving north on U.S. 25E when his 2004 Ford Taurus crossed the median of the divided four-lane road and collided head-on with a 2010 Camry headed south, according to a news release from Kentucky State Police.

The people in the Camry were Gary Caldwell, 61, and his wife Patricia Caldwell, 58, of Harlan County; and the Caldwells' daughter Julia Robinson, 29, and son-in-law Brent Robinson, 30, of Bradenton, Fla.

Terry Caldwell, Gary's brother, said Gary and Patty Caldwell were returning home from Lexington, where they had picked up their daughter and son-in-law, who had flown in for Christmas. The Caldwells were going to get the whole family together for Christmas dinner at 3 p.m., he said.

Terry Caldwell told the Herald-Leader on Tuesday that the reality of the deaths in the family hadn't begun to sink in.

"They were outstanding, wonderful people," he said.

Terry Caldwell said police told his cousin that Vanderpool's car was "running from 80 to 90 miles per hour." Knox County Coroner Mike Blevins said state police troopers said it was one of the worst wrecks they had ever seen.

At the time of the wreck, Knox County deputies had been looking for Vanderpool's car because of a report of an impaired driver, said state police detective Michael H. Cornett, an accident reconstruction expert who is investigating the fatal collision.

Toxicology tests will be performed on both drivers, which is standard procedure, Blevins said. That test will answer whether Vanderpool was impaired.

Cornett said police did not find alcohol containers in the passenger compartment of either vehicle.

The wreck was reported to state police at 5:20 p.m. It happened at Flat Lick. U.S. 25E was closed for nearly five hours while police investigated.

Gary Caldwell was the finance director for the Letcher County school system, and Patty Caldwell was an assistant principal at James A. Cawood Elementary School in Harlan County, according to Mike Howard, superintendent of Harlan County Public Schools.

Howard said Gary Caldwell had worked for the state Department of Education as a field representative for many years, assisting local districts, and that Patty Caldwell had been a teacher before becoming a principal.

"She was just an outstanding educator all around," Howard said.

Julia Robinson, a speech therapist, met Brent Robinson at a Florida hospital where they both worked, Terry Caldwell said. "They had only got married a couple years ago," he said.

Terry Caldwell said he and his brother grew up in Bledsoe. He said they were close and visited each other often. Gary Caldwell loved to hunt, he said, and the two went buck hunting in Clay County last weekend. Gary Caldwell planned to deep-fry a turkey for Tuesday's dinner.

Gary and Patricia Caldwell are survived by an adult son, Scott Caldwell of Georgetown, Terry Caldwell said. He said Scott Caldwell was driving to his parents' house Monday night and was rerouted around the accident scene.

When he got to the house and no one answered the door or phone calls, Scott Caldwell figured out what had happened.

"He knew something was wrong so he turned around and went back to where the wreck was at. It was his mom and his dad and his sister," Terry Caldwell said, his voice cracking. "State police stopped him. They saw him coming on foot and they knew not to let him go any further."

Arrangements for the Caldwells and Robinsons are being handled by Anderson-Laws & Jones Funeral Home in Harlan. The funeral home said services would be held in Kentucky for the Caldwells and Robinsons, followed by a service for Julia and Brent Robinson in Florida. No other arrangements had been set as of Tuesday evening.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655.Twitter: @billestep1.

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