NAPLES, Fla. (AP) - Joan Antonuccio begged God not to take her daughter as she rushed to Naples Community Hospital from her home in Golden Gate Estates.
Antonuccio found herself screaming that she would do whatever it took for her daughter, Angela Crowe, to survive the horrific injuries she suffered in a car crash.
Eighteen years later and Crowe is still with her mother. The pair now lives in Tampa and Antonuccio is her daughter’s full-time caregiver because of the injuries from the crash.
A jury awarded $60 million to Crowe and Antonuccio in 2015 in a judgment against a former North Naples bar that served Crowe and her then-boyfriend too much alcohol on the night of the crash.
Crowe and Antonuccio haven’t received a cent of that money.
Now they are struggling financially and Antonuccio feels the people responsible for what happened to her daughter never paid the price for their actions.
“Forget about the money, even though I could really use it right now,” Antonuccio said. “What hurts the most is not getting closure. I just want them (the bartender and owner of the bar) to acknowledge what they did wrong.”
Crowe’s life changed forever on the night of the crash. It was March 2003 and she was just 19 years old.
She went to Spectators, a now-defunct sports pub on U.S. 41 near Vanderbilt Beach Road, with her then-boyfriend Issac Steves and her brother and brother’s then-girlfriend.
At least one bartender knew Crowe personally and was aware she was underage, yet she was served until she was intoxicated.
Steves, who was 22 at the time, was also intoxicated when he and Crowe left the bar and he started driving home with Crowe in the passenger seat. Crowe’s brother, Aaron, and his then-girlfriend left the bar in a separate car.
Steves dozed off while driving and the vehicle crashed head-on into a tree on Golden Gate Boulevard.
Crowe sustained brain damage, broken legs, a lacerated liver, multiple rib fractures, respiratory complications and other injuries, while Steves’ injuries were minor in comparison.
Crowe grew up in Naples and finished up at Lely High School shortly before the crash. She was friends with everybody and had ambitions of attending Valencia College in Orlando to start a career in record producing.
“People don’t understand,” Antonuccio said. “You don’t get over losing your kid. A lifetime can go by and that pain is always embedded. Even though I have her body and a little bit of her personality, she is gone. The beautiful, outgoing 19-year-old woman is gone. She’s been gone.”
Four days after the crash, Crowe’s condition worsened to the point where the medical staff thought she was going to die. A chaplain came in and read Crowe her last rites.
After losing her first two kids to a stillbirth and a miscarriage, Antonuccio couldn’t let go of Crowe even when she was advised by a doctor and some family members that it was time to give up.
“I would’ve been buried right next to her,” Antonuccio said. “There’s no way I would’ve survived, and my son would’ve been left with no family.”
Old photos of Angela sit out on the table at the home she shares with her mother in Tampa on Tuesday, March 30, 2021.
Crowe’s condition stabilized, but Antonuccio was told that everything in her daughter’s body was so severely damaged that it didn’t make medical sense that she was surviving.
From that point on, Antonuccio was her daughter’s advocate and fought for her recovery. They bounced from hospital to hospital, all over the state, after spending two months in Naples Community Hospital.
Crowe was released from a hospital in Orlando for outpatient treatment in September 2003, after being treated in seven different hospitals. She was unable to walk and talk and required a feeding tube and a tracheotomy once she was released.
WHERE IS THE $60 MILLION?
Antonuccio decided she wanted to file a lawsuit against the bar that served her underage daughter just a few months before the statute of limitations deadline in the case.
Antonuccio and Crowe were represented by Ramon Rasco, of the Miami-based Podhurst Orseck law firm.
The major roadblock in collecting the $60 million judgment was that the entity that was sued and owned the bar, Spectators3, LLC, did not have insurance and was dissolved by the time the lawsuit was filed, Rasco said.
“She (Antonuccio) came to us very late in the window to file a claim,” Rasco said. “We named as many parties as we could in the lawsuit. Once we started doing discovery and looking into it the bar there just wasn’t a pocket to go after.”
The lawsuit was originally filed against four corporations, including Spectators3, LLC, and two Collier County men Joseph Skladany and Albert Colarusso.
The two men were said to be owners of Spectators Sports Pub in the original complaint filed in the lawsuit, according to court documents.
Eight months after the suit was filed, the two men and all the corporate defendants, except Spectators3, LLC, were voluntarily dismissed from the lawsuit by Antonuccio’s attorneys.
The defendants were dismissed because it was revealed they did not own or operate Spectators when Crowe’s crash occurred, according to court documents.
Skladany and Colarusso reported that the bar was sold to Eric Hyde before Crowe’s crash, according to an agreement that released the two men from the lawsuit.
The two men agreed to cooperate with discovery efforts and help Antonuccio’s attorneys locate a bartender from the night of the crash known as “Rodney,” according to a court document.
A document filed with the secretary of state appears to show ownership of Spectators3, LLC, transferring from Skladany to Hyde in January 2003, about two months before Crowe’s crash.
“We looked for him (Hyde),” Rasco said. “We tried to get him. My firm spent a lot of money on this case trying to find somebody, including him. We never found him.”
A subpoena was served to a co-occupant of the North Naples home on Ibis Way where Hyde was believed to live in Sept. 2011, according to a court document.
Public records give the appearance that Hyde may be active in South Florida and still be living on Ibis Way. In 2012, he pleaded guilty to improper use of an HOV lane in Broward County.
A lawsuit from a credit union, which was eventually settled, was filed against Hyde in 2016 in Collier County and listed the man’s address as Ibis Way in North Naples, according to court documents.
A phone number listed as Hyde’s online was disconnected when the Naples Daily News reached out to him for comment.
“I know that we left no stone unturned,” Rasco said. “We wanted to do everything we could. Obviously, it’s a very strong case if you can find somebody who was responsible.”
The defendant was liable in the case because Crowe’s impaired judgment and intoxicated state led her to decide to ride as a passenger in Steves’ car on the night of the crash, according to the complaint filed in the suit.
The defendant, Spectators3, LLC, never filed an answer or other pleading, so in April 2013 Judge Cynthia Pivacek entered a default judgment of liability in the case.
After some scheduling delays, a jury trial in the case began on April 17, 2015. A six-member jury was asked to determine the amount of damages that would be awarded to Antonuccio and Crowe.
Antonuccio wept through her testimony as she shared with jurors what happened to her daughter and Rasco presented evidence, including medical bills, prescription drug costs and hospital records.
The jury deliberated for less than an hour before deciding to award Antonuccio and Crowe $60 million for the loss of earning capacity, economic damages, medical expenses and non-economic damages, such as the loss of capacity for enjoyment of life.
In May 2015, the judge issued a final judgment against Spectators3, LLC, which included the $60 million and an interest rate of 4.75% for each day until the defendant paid the damages.
Even though the trial only lasted one day and was held almost six years ago, David Roosa remembers serving on the jury in Crowe and Antonuccio’s lawsuit.
Roosa has a daughter and couldn’t help thinking about how he would feel if she were served alcohol as a minor and ended up getting injured because of it.
“It really got me thinking about how I would want that bar owner being scared of the liability if they didn’t check all their boxes with hiring practices and management style,” Roosa said.
Roosa and the other jurors decided to make a statement by awarding Antonuccio and Crowe a large judgment. The idea was to attract the attention of local bartenders and make them think twice before serving someone underage, Roosa said.
“We wanted to raise the eyebrows of other bar owners in the area and let them know that this could be the potential penalty for these types of egregious activities,” Roosa said.
Before being sent to deliberate, the jury was told by Rasco that it was going to be difficult to collect damages in the case because of the defendant’s lack of insurance, Roosa said.
Still, Roosa said he was disappointed to learn that Antonuccio and Crowe have never been paid any of the $60 million.
Rasco agreed and said it’s unfortunate that none of the money was ever able to be collected and given to his clients.
“We went through every entity and looked for insurance everywhere we possibly could,” Rasco said. “We looked for deep pockets everywhere we possibly could and there was nothing there.”
Antonuccio still could hire a judgment collecting attorney to go after the $60 million, but he doesn’t think that will change anything, Rasco said.
LIVING WITH THE DAMAGE
The difference is night and day when you compare Crowe today to when she was first released from the hospital after her crash, said childhood friend Amy Nolasco.
“Angie was vibrant before the crash,” said Nolasco. “She was a friend you wanted to surround yourself with.”
Nolasco and Crowe, who met when they were 14, attended high school together. Nolasco remembers Crowe not being able to walk and having rods in her legs after the crash.
Crowe was incoherent and could only communicate with facial expressions when she was first released from the hospital, Nolasco said.
Today, Crowe still suffers from memory issues and other impacts from the traumatic brain injuries, but she can talk slowly and take her dog, Silky, out on short walks on a leash.
“Angie has come so far, but she’s not Angie,” Nolasco said. “It’s hard to explain. She was full of life and she never got completely better, but she’s come a long way.”
Crowe’s father and Antonuccio separated shortly after Crowe’s birth, which left Antonuccio by herself to care for her daughter after the crash.
Antonuccio should be credited for acting as her daughter’s physical and speech therapist and fighting for her recovery, Nolasco said.
If Crowe and Antonuccio had gotten any money from the judgment, they could have used it for more treatment for Crowe and she could be further along in her recovery, Nolasco said.
Antonuccio has faced an uphill battle every step of the way and especially now she is struggling, Nolasco said.
The mother had permission from the state to be Crowe’s caregiver and was being paid to do so through an insurance company until July.
Without her job, Antonuccio was receiving unemployment checks until February when the state told her she was no longer eligible.
She is now trying to figure out how to continue getting unemployment while looking for a different insurance company that will pay her to be Crowe’s caregiver.
Antonuccio has tried hiring at-home caregivers so she could work a different job but had bad experiences with the people who were supposed to be caring for Crowe.
For a while, Crowe lived in an assisted living facility in Clearwater. Antonuccio struggled with drinking and suicidal thoughts when she was away from her daughter.
“I just wanted to die,” Antonuccio said. “I did end up being Baker Acted for 72 hours. I finally had a breakdown and I hit bottom, so I had nowhere to go but up. I pulled her out of the assisted living facility.”
Antonuccio and Crowe now live together in a small one-bedroom apartment on Davis Islands in downtown Tampa. Antonuccio’s apartment is not large enough for two adults, and she’s been sleeping on the couch since they moved in around 2016.
Photos of Crowe and her brother from when they were infants and teenagers before the crash sit above the entrance to the apartment.
Antonuccio is facing her own health problems now and is struggling to get care without a job or insurance. She’s seen law firms in the Tampa area use her story in advertisements to try and attract clients by mentioning the large judgment she was awarded.
“Our misfortune is being used as a way to lure people in,” Antonuccio said. “They are using our pain for their publicity. That’s just another slap to the face.”
Antonuccio tries to stay positive, appreciate the small things and have faith that her financial worries will soon be solved, but she can’t help thinking negatively sometimes.
“I’m getting to a point where I want to hit the fast-forward button and be done with this life,” Antonuccio said. “My daughter has been gone since March 23 of 2003. I’m taking care of somebody who technically has her body, but with a completely different personality.”
Now at 60, Antonuccio doesn’t think she will ever see the judgment money but is looking for closure or an acknowledgment from those responsible for what happened to her daughter.
“Nobody with the bar has ever been held accountable,” Antonuccio said. “The driver in the crash got a slap on the wrist and moved on with his life.”
Steves, the driver in the crash and Crowe’s former boyfriend, was arrested and charged with DUI involving serious bodily injury, according to court records.
He pleaded no contest, admitting he was under the influence of Xanax and alcohol. He was sentenced in 2006 to one year in county jail, according to court records.
No one associated with Spectators ever showed up in court during the lawsuit. The bartender, who Antonuccio believes was named Rodney, was never charged for knowingly serving her underage daughter or allowing her daughter’s then-boyfriend to leave the bar intoxicated and drive.
The fact that those liable for what happened to her daughter are most likely out there enjoying their lives eats at Antonuccio every day. She wants them to know and acknowledge the pain their actions have caused her family.
“When you do irresponsible stuff, even if you don’t pay the price, there is somebody else who has to live with the damage,” Antonuccio said. “We missed out on 18 years of life. I’m never going to have a grand baby from her and she’s never going to get married.”
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