5 Killed Speeding on Private Runway

The car went airborne off the end of a runway before hitting a tree.


Jan. 28, 2008 — -- The 18-year-old behind the wheel of a BMW that crashed this weekend, killing five Florida teens, was reportedly online hours earlier seeking advice on how to handle the $80,000 car at speeds of 140 mph and above.

The grisly accident took place around 3:45 a.m. Saturday at the Jumbolair Aviation Estates, an exclusive gated enclave for private jet owners in Ocala, Fla., where actor John Travolta is a resident.

Residents also complained to police about the lack of security at the airstrip, saying teens had been caught sneaking cars onto the runway.

Authorities say Joshua Ammirato, 18, of Fairfield, Fla., snuck his his father's gray 2008 BMW M-5 onto the main runway, with four friends onboard. Police say after racing down the strip, the car flew off an approximately 85-foot-high embankment at the end of the runway. They say the car was going so fast it went airborne for about 200 feet before slamming into a tree.

The car was split in two upon impact, according to the Florida Highway Patrol, ejecting three passengers and partially ejecting the other two.

All five victims were pronounced dead at the scene.

Ammirato likely "braked and turned," said the patrol's Lt. Mike Burroughs, after he either "saw a hazard coming or realized that he was nearing the end of the runway," flipping the car sideways before sending it over the edge.

Burroughs told ABC News he could not speculate on the exact speed of the car at the time of the accident.

All five victims had recently graduated from high schools in the area. James Devon Hime and Dustin Dawe, both 19, had been co-captains of the wrestling team at North Marion High, Kathy Quelland, the school's principal, told ABC News. Ammirato had also been on the wrestling team; 20-year-old Isaac Rubin played football at a nearby high school.

Quelland said the community was "devastated" upon hearing of the accident.

None of the victims was a resident of the exclusive community.

Authorities said it appears Ammirato and his friends entered the compound through a back entrance that gives access to the 1.5-mile-long runway used by residents to land their private planes, according to Burroughs.

"Several community residents told us that it was common knowledge that yes, there is a back way to this airstrip," Burroughs said. "We know that troopers accessed the scene through that roadway without being challenged. There was no restrictive access."

Jeremy Thayer, co-owner of Jumbolair Aviation Estates, told ABC News that he didn't know how Ammirato and his friends got onto the property but that teenagers from the surrounding areas had to be chased off the runway in the past.

"It's a private airport, it's not a public airport," Thayer said. "So it doesn't have the same level of security that a public airport has. It's a tempting situation for young kids I guess."

Besides its 7,550-foot-long, 210-foot-wide runway, Jumbolair, which bills itself as "the nation's largest and most exclusive fly-in community," boasts private airstrips that allow residents to taxi their private jets to their doorstep and park them in personal hangars attached to their homes.

Travolta, the enclave's most famous resident, keeps a Boeing 707, a smaller Gulf Stream jet, and reportedly, three other planes at the house.

"We are all so distraught and devastated for these families," said Thayer of the Jumbolair community's reaction to the accident. "It's hard just to even talk about it."

Officials told ABC News they found no alcohol on the scene and couldn't confirm reports in the media that the group had been drinking in celebration of one of the victims' 19th birthday the night of the crash.

But less than six hours before the accident, a user who called himself "AmericanM5" logged on to a BMW M-5 online forum asking for advice on how to make the 500-horsepower car go faster.

Florida newspaper the Star Banner identified the user as 18-year-old Ammirato.

"The problem is when I'm going pedal to the metal pushing 140 and upshifting, there tends to be thud noise with the gear change," AmericanM5 wrote in one post, adding, "Let me say I am beginner when it comes to high-performance cars as I am only 18 so take it easy on me."

Others on the online forum doubted AmericanM5's claims of owning such a high-powered BMW at such a young age and warned him to take it slow.

A member logged in as "M5Froth" wrote, "Its [sic] just disturbing to know, if you're for real, that an 18 year old who is asking these questions about a 500hp car is driving the same street I am. I don't have anything against young guys driving nice cars, but an 18 year old behind the wheel of an M5 is what accidents are made of IMO."

In his last entry on the forum, posted at 12:33 a.m. Saturday, AmericanM5 wrote, "I completley [sic] understand where you are coming from assuming that I am irresponsible.. that is definetly [sic] understandable. I do sometimes make bad decisions but I am young and I do drive safe and I will not endanger the lives of others.. and I hope you are not under the impression that I am the one to brag, I have never been that way and never will."

This weekend residents mourned the victims who they said formed part of a tight group of friends.

"People are really just in shock," Quelland told ABC News. "Number one, the severity of the crash and just how devastating that was, but people aren't used to losing three people that they're close to at once."

Students from North Marion and others gathered at a Baptist church Saturday to remember the victims, according to local media reports.

"We wanted to have a place where everyone could get together and mourn," Kathy Crile, the mother of a former student and friend of the victims, told the Star Banner. To "hug and cry."

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