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Man dies after ramming propane-laden car into ex's Fort Pierce apartment building

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jnelsoninjax    12,386

FORT PIERCE — A 31-year-old man died Tuesday afternoon when he rammed a car loaded with propane tanks into an apartment building where his former girlfriend lived, Fort Pierce police said.

The driver was Carl Philbert, an immigrant from Haiti who had been staying at hotels in the Fort Pierce area, said Ed Cunningham, Fort Pierce Police Department spokesman. Philbert died at the scene.

No one else was injured in the incident, which occurred about 12:45 p.m., Cunningham said. Five adults and a toddler escaped the apartment through a back door.

According to police reports, Philbert drove a white four-door sedan through the front windows of a ground-floor apartment in the 400 block of Palm Avenue, a residential street off U.S. 1.

The occupants of the apartment and several neighbors said they were frightened initially by the crash and then horrified after they realized the driver seemed to be trying to blow up the building.

Eileen Cuevas, 26, said her mother was in the front room of the family's apartment when she saw Philbert, her mother's ex-boyfriend, driving his car toward the building.

"My mother was cooking. She saw him like coming full force at our living room, and she was trying to warn us as we were sitting on the couch, but it was too late and he had already come in and hit the window," Cuevas said. "And he drove through our living room."

"As soon as he came in through the window, I just jumped up and grabbed my son, ran out the back door with him," Cuevas said. "I got my mother and my grandmother and everyone out of the house."

By that point, the car and apartment were on fire.

"I just wanted people to help him because I saw his body burning," Cuevas said. "You never want to see a thing like that. I saw his body, everything on fire."

Cuevas said she didn't know what had made him so angry.

"It's very personal," Cuevas said. "It's still weird talking about it. He was trying to get to my mom. It was meant for everybody that was in the house. I mean, the man had four or five propane tanks in the car. They were friends and it turned out really bad. This is very personal for our family, so it's kind of touchy."

A neighbor, Pablo Toledo, fought through heavy smoke to rescue an elderly woman from the second-floor balcony when she appeared to be unable to make it down on her own.

"The lady upstairs, she was like, 'Can you help me? My mother! My mother!'" Toledo recalled. "I looked upstairs, and there's this lady who looks like she doesn't want to move, like she's frozen."

"She was engulfed in smoke, so that's why I had to act," Toledo said. "So I just ran up there. I really didn't think about the fire was going to get me. I just ran up there, grabbed her and came down. She continued thanking me."

Toledo said he was sitting inside his house when he heard an explosion at the apartment building next door.

"I came running out this way, and I saw there was a gentleman trying to put a fire out in a car that was jammed into the corner," Toledo said. "So I ran and got my fire extinguisher and tried to help, and when I came back it was worse. It felt like it kept growing."

Fire rescue crews responded to the scene at 12:48 p.m., the St. Lucie County Fire District said in a news release.

All eight units in the complex sustained damage, and the building was cordoned off with police tape.

The American Red Cross has been notified to assist 13 adults and five children who had been living in the apartment building, the Fire District stated.

The incident is being investigated by the Fire District, Fort Pierce police and the state Fire Marshal's Office.

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