The mayor of Fort Lauderdale is apologizing for rushing to dub a car crash at a Pride Parade in Southern Florida that killed one marcher and injured another a “terrorist attack against the LGBT community” — after facing intense backlash and calls to step down.
It turned out that Saturday’s deadly crash at the Stonewall Pride Parade in Wilton Manors was an accident, according to the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, caused by a 77-year-old man who wanted to take part in the event but had physical ailments that prevented him from walking.
The man’s 2011 Dodge Ram pickup truck accelerated unexpectedly at the beginning of the parade, striking two people and coming close to plowing into a car carrying Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.).
After the accident, Mayor Dean Trantalis told Local10.com that he was a witness.
“It’s terrible. They’re laying on the ground. This is clearly a terrorist act against the LGBT community,” Trantalis told the station on Saturday. “This is exactly what it is. Hardly an accident. It was deliberate, it was premeditated, and it was targeted against a specific person. Luckily they missed that person, but unfortunately, they hit two other people.”
The blowback to his premature conclusion was swift.
“Issue an actual apology along with a resignation letter,” one user posted on Twitter.
Another user urged Trantalis to admit: “I was wrong.”
“I’d also add: I’m clearly not a good leader and should not be the mayor of this, or any other city. I’m sorry I didn’t think before speaking. I certainly need to do more of the former and less of the latter,” wrote another.
By Sunday afternoon, Trantalis was walking back his comments.
He called it the “worst of tragedies” and said the grief in the LGBT community “is palpable.”
“I was an eyewitness to the horrifying events. It terrorized me and all around me. I reported what I saw to law enforcement and had strong concerns about what transpired — concerns for the safety of my community. I feared it could be intentional based on what I saw from mere feet away,” he said in a statement.
“Law enforcement took what appeared obvious to me and others nearby and investigated further — as is their job. As the facts continue to be pieced together, a picture is emerging of an accident in which a truck careened out of control,” he continued.
“My heart breaks for all impacted by this tragedy,” Trantalis said.
By Monday, he was trying to put the spotlight on the pickup truck’s driver instead of on him.
“Let’s focus on what really happened, and what happened was that someone was killed,” he told Local10.com.
“So the apology goes to him and his family and his friends and the people that knew him. That’s where the apology needs to come from. The apology needs to come from the person who perpetrated this act, OK? You know, it’s not about Dean Trantalis. It’s about what really happened and we need to focus on that,” he said.