FLAT LICK —
The son and daughter-in-law of former major league pitcher Don Robinson were among five killed in a two-car collision on Christmas Eve in Knox County in southeastern Kentucky.
All of those killed were from southeastern Kentucky, or had connections to the region.
They included a Whitley County man, as well as a husband and wife from Harlan County, along with their daughter and son-in law from the Tampa Bay area of Florida.
The couple had flown to Lexington earlier in the day to be part of what would have been a Christmas Day celebration with her parents and his in-laws back in Kentucky.
The parents, Gary Caldwell, 61, and his wife, Patricia Caldwell, 58, were both of the Putney community in Harlan County. Also killed was their daughter, Julia Robinson, 29, and her husband, Brent Robinson, both of Bradenton, Fla. All four were in a 2010 Toyota Camry driven by Gary Caldwell. Brent Robinson was the son of former major league pitcher Don Robinson, who is from Kenova.
David Vanderpool, 31, of Williamsburg, the driver of the other car, a 2004 Ford Taurus, was also killed.
The accident happened late Monday afternoon on U.S. 25E in Flat Lick, southeast of Barbourville near the Bell County border, with Kentucky State Police Post 10 in Harlan getting the call at 5:20 p.m. According to State Police troopers who arrived at the scene, preliminary investigations showed Vanderpool’s car driving northbound on 25E, with the Caldwell car traveling southbound, when Vanderpool’s car crossed the median of the divided four-lane highway and hit the Caldwell car head-on.
None of the five involved survived the collision, which authorities said was “a horrible sight.” State Police said neither Vanderpool, nor both Robinson family members who were passengers in the Caldwell car, were wearing seat belts.
“It was tragic. The State Police said it was one of the worst wrecks they’d ever seen,” said Knox County Coroner Mike Blevins.
Blevins added the Knox County Sheriff’s Office had been alerted about a report of a driver being impaired on the road at the time of the accident.
“That’s what I understand. He was coming out of Pineville on 25E and a driver who was behind him alerted 911 dispatch.”
Knox County Sheriff’s Deputy Roy Gambrel was one of the first to respond to the collision scene.
“I got the call about three minutes before the wreck happened. When the dispatcher told me where the wreck was, I just had a feeling it was him. It was the worst-case scenario. In almost 17 years of police work, it was the worst one I’ve ever seen. It don’t get any worse than that,” said Gambrel.
Blevins added toxicology tests would be performed on both drivers of the two cars, which he said was a standard procedure in fatal accidents.
Roger Fannin, an insurance agent in Harlan, knew the Caldwells. He noted the tragedy cut deep into the fabric of what would have been a festive time of year.
“It hurts. I attended church with the couple. It’s absolutely fair to say this community is in shock. It’s very upsetting how this accident took away a family on Christmas Eve,” Fannin said.
Both Caldwells were employed as educators, with Gary Caldwell as finance director for Letcher County Schools, and Patricia Caldwell as assistant principal at Harlan County’s James. A. Cawood Elementary School.
“The Caldwells were a blessing to our church. Both Gary and Patricia served in our church in many ways, and their kids grew up in our church. The people here have been broken and in some ways, devastated,” said the Caldwells’ pastor, the Rev. Brandon Pugh of Harlan Baptist Church.
Don Robinson was numb after learning of the accident.
“I keep thinking in my mind that 10 years from now, he’s not going to be here,” Robinson told a Tampa television station. “He’s not going to be here so I can talk to him.”
Don also told the station his son and Julia were inseparable, about how she would accompany Brent on business trips and how the two would go to games together, especially the Rays and the Giants.
“He loved his wife; he loved her more than anything,” Don said.
Don Robinson pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants, California Angels and Philadelphia Phillies during his 15-year major league career.