SUV crashes into Tampa homeless shelter

- An SUV crashed into a Tampa homeless shelter Friday morning, leaving a mess of concrete debris and displacing several men who were staying there.

A Ford Explorer crashed into the New Beginnings of Tampa building on East Seward Street just before 6 a.m. The view from SkyFOX showed the SUV hit the corner of the building, badly damaging the structure.

"I got a call saying, 'you need to come now, there's a car in through the building,'" said Thomas Atchison, New Beginnings' CEO.

New Beginnings helps the homeless stabilize their lives. There were 29 recovering homeless men, including veterans, staying at the shelter at the time.

The SUV destroyed a refrigerator but spared all of the men, half of whom are military veterans.

Early Friday evening, Atchison said although the damage to the building was extensive, 20 people would be able to stay in the building, whose electricity would be powered by a generator. He hoped to find space at another site operated by New Beginnings.

For a while, however, Atchison wasn't sure where he would put the men.

"A lot of them are walking about fearful, 'oh no, what am I going to do? Am I going to be on the street tonight?" he said. "We're assuring them if I have to put them up in my house or our church, we're not going to leave them homeless tonight. But it's still traumatic."

Ron Pledger, who wasn't in the building at the time of the accident, has been helped by the organization for several weeks and said it must have been a jarring morning for the veterans suffering from PTSD.

"Since I was in the Navy, it would give you a sense of something hitting your ship," Pledger said, adding it's important to get the building up and running as soon as possible. "They're down on their luck and they deserve a place to stay."

Police identified the driver as Anais Garcia. Investigators aren't sure what caused he to the first barrel through a telephone pole before slamming into the shelter. Officers said Garcia tried to run from the scene but was caught and arrested.

Garcia is charged with misdemeanor hit-and-run. As of late Friday evening, she was still in the Hillsborough County jail.

Atchison said it appears Garcia doesn't have insurance, so the organization is raising money online to try to help cover the costs to repair the shelter.

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