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Fatal Cape Coral pool hall crash leaves many in mourning

Ronald Gravel always beat his brother in billiards.

So it made sense he enjoyed his job as a kitchen manager at Diamond Billiards in Cape Coral.

Gravel, 60, died Monday afternoon from his injuries after a drunken driver smashed a Ford F-250 through the front windows of the pool hall and pinned him against the bar.

“He’s my big brother. It’s just not fair,” said Dave Gravel, on the phone from his hometown of Peabody, Massachusetts.

He said he spoke to his brother two weeks ago. He gushed about how proud he was of his adult children — one heading to medical school and the other starting a business in Southwest Florida.

“He was coming into the best part of his life,” Dave Gravel said of his brother. “You work hard when kids are growing up and you see their successes … He won’t live to see any grandchildren.”

Gravel is the 62nd person to die in a Lee County traffic accident in 2015.

Besides killing Gravel, the crash seriously injured Tracy Booker, 52, of Cape Coral, and left Linda Girard, 58, of Cape Coral, with minor injuries, according to the Cape Coral Police Department. Gravel and one of the women were pinned against the bar.

The driver, 75-year-old William Gulliver, of St. James City, was not injured.

Orange paint stripes on the parking lot mark the pickup’s rough route: The pickup was parked at an angle pointing at the spot on the wall it would eventually hit, then it had to power over a nearly foot-high curb, maneuver across the width of a parking lot, then burst through the front windows and mow down the three at the bar.

There are no updates on the conditions of Booker and Girard, both of whom were seated at the bar directly in the path of the truck, said Detective Sgt. Dana Coston, Cape Coral police spokesman.
He said it appears Gulliver was drinking in the bar before leaving and waited several minutes in the pickup before he drove into the pool hall.

When asked if the crash was an accident, Coston said: “I will defer any comment regarding the suspect’s motive until the investigation is concluded and charges have been determined.”

Police stayed at the scene for five hours after the crash processing evidence.

Men were sawing lumber to patch up the massive hole left in the Pine Island Road corner unit of the Chiquita Plaza business, just hours after the crash Monday night.

On Tuesday, the breach was boarded up, but a family gathered.

Jack Glynos, 80, said his daughter married Gravel nearly 32 years ago. The couple moved from Massachusetts to Florida in 1989 and have a 30-year-old son and a 36-year-old daughter.

“He was sitting down on a stool and all of the sudden a truck came through the building,” Glynos said. “I don’t believe it.”

Dyan Thompson, daughter of Diamond Billiards owner Ward Huey, said friends and family were cleaning the pool hall until nearly 1 a.m. Tuesday.

She went home and started a GoFundMe account with a goal of raising $15,000 to help cover funeral costs for Gravel’s family.

The description reads: “Tonight, we lost our beloved employee and friend from a very freak accident. A pick up truck came through the windows at Diamonds and crushed Ron between the truck and bar, killing him.”

In 19 hours, 79 people donated more than $5,700.

“We lost a family member, he’s not an employee, he’s a family member,” Thompson said. “Diamonds is a family … it’s like ‘Cheers.’ ”

Beyond one of their own dying, the staff was shaken by what could have happened if there had been more than a dozen people, including staff, inside the building at the time of the crash.

“The truck literally went right where we all sit … there would have been no chance for them to even move,” she said.

Thompson said her father met Gravel at a pool table two days after moving to Florida. That was in 1999.

Gravel worked at the billiard parlor for 6 1/2 years as a kitchen manager.

She said even though he was a cook at a pool hall, that never stopped him from trying to reach the height of culinary perfection, as he was often seen sprinkling parsley flakes with care on the fried fare.

“We really don’t care about parsley flakes,” Thompson said. “He was very particular, people enjoyed his food.”

She said Gravel was most famous for his lack of footwear while playing pool — as in he would play just in socks.

“Only when he played, then he’d put them back on,” she said. “They all have a superstition like baseball players.”

Thompson said Diamond Billiards plans on honoring Gravel as soon as the building reopens, which should be at most three weeks.

She said she is particularly thankful to The Dek Bar, which donated $1,000 to the fund to support a fellow Cape Coral watering hole.

“If that happened to my bar, I’d be devastated,” said Betty Eavis, owner of The Dek Bar.

Thompson said she wouldn’t talk about Gulliver being in the bar before the crash, only that she hopes people continue to donate.

Dave Gravel said his brother always talked about the friend he made in Southwest Florida.

“He liked the climate down there and the lifestyle,” Gravel said.

More than anything, he said his brother liked the billiards games he would play.

“He could take care of himself and he could certainly play the game,” Gravel said . “I could never beat him, I could tell you that much.”

Source: news-press.com