Former Holy Cross rowing coach cited, not criminally charged, in fatal Florida crash

The crash killed 20-year-old rower Grace Rett and injured multiple other team members.

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.
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. –Corey Arwood / TCPalm.com via AP

In the moments before the fatal crash involving the Holy Cross women’s rowing team in Vero Beach, Florida, the team’s now-former coach, who was driving a van with 11 student athletes, told police he didn’t see the other vehicle involved until just before impact, and he recalled he heard someone scream as he made the fatal left turn.

Coach Patrick Diggins, who has retired from coaching since the fatal crash on Jan. 15, was cited by Vero Beach police for failure to yield, according to the police’s traffic homicide investigation, posted online by WBZ. The report did not bring criminal charges against Diggins. Local prosecutors will review the report and findings, according to The Boston Globe.

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The van was attempting to make a left from Indian River Boulevard onto the Merrill Barber Bridge when it was struck by a Dodge pickup truck around 7:30 a.m. that morning. The vehicles struck nearly head on – the van with the team in it was heavily damaged on the front passenger side, the report says. The rowers were headed to winter training at a nearby facility.

Rower Grace Rett, who had just celebrated her 20th birthday the day before and was riding in the front passenger seat, died as a result of the crash. Many other members of the team were hospitalized with various injuries.

At the time of the crash, the van had a green light, but not a green arrow that would have allowed it to make the turn without having to yield to oncoming traffic, witnesses told police, including Stephanie Ricker, an assistant coach to the rowing team who was driving a second van following Diggins, as relayed in the report.

At impact, the van Diggins was driving was following a vehicle that was in front of it – that vehicle made the left during “a gap in traffic,” Ricker told authorities, according to the report. Diggins told police the van was equipped with a map on the dashboard and he was looking at it just prior to the crash. 

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Via investigation, police believe the van was traveling at about 22 miles per hour at the time of the crash; the pickup truck was traveling at about 43 miles per hour.

The van drifted about 60 feet from the crash site after impact.

Diggins’s retirement was announced on the Holy Cross Crusaders’ website. He spent 34 years at the college, serving as director of rowing as well as in the women’s head coach position. He began as an assistant coach at the college after he graduated from there in 1986, the announcement says. He became the women’s head coach in 1987, and program director in 2002.

In a statement from Diggins’ attorney, Christopher Lyons, obtained by the Globe, he said Diggins “continues to be grief-stricken about the loss and impact this accident has caused so many families.”

All the rowers injured in the crash have been released from the hospital; rower Hannah Strom was flown from a Florida hospital to Mass. General Hospital for treatment in late January.

Officials in Florida planned to add additional traffic safety measures to the intersection where the crash occurred.

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