Business as usual at a local dental practice suddenly became an appointment everyone involved will always remember as a car crashed through the wall just after 2 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 16.
Dr. Marisol Lopez-Belio and her dental assistant, Danielle Prieto, were attending to a patient at the Wellington Center for Laser Dentistry at 1200 Corporate Center Way in Wellington when suddenly a 2014 Ford Mustang crashed through the wall into one of the treatment rooms, causing extensive damage to the building and the dental equipment.
The driver, a 16-year-old Wellington juvenile, was transported to a local hospital to treat minor injuries.
“It was like a bomb went off,” Dr. Lopez-Belio recalled. “There was drywall, insulation and dust everywhere. It was a surreal explosion. All were crying and in shock.”
A trip to the bathroom probably saved lives. Dr. Lopez-Belio was preparing to treat a patient in the room that the car crashed through, but the patient decided to use the restroom first. “If someone was in the room, the patient and the staff could have been killed,” she said.
Dr. Lopez-Belio was surprised by the reaction by those in the car.
“The driver and two male passengers got out of the vehicle and were laughing and cursing,” she said. “What shocked me was they were standing there yelling. They offered no apology and no remorse. They did not even check to see if they had killed anyone. They attempted to leave the scene, but an off-duty Broward County deputy made them stay until local police arrived.”
Angie Lopez-Belio, an estate planning attorney from Greenacres and Dr. Lopez-Belio’s sister, was 10 minutes away at Publix and rushed to the scene when she learned of the incident. Speaking to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office deputies at the scene, Lopez-Belio said she was informed that the Mustang was fleeing the scene of a traffic collision and entered the office park in error at high speed and lost control of the vehicle.
Prieto declined to be interviewed, citing lingering psychological trauma from the incident. “Thank God she wasn’t paralyzed,” Lopez-Belio said, adding that a portion of the wall fell on Prieto, injuring her back.
Candy Cerbone of Lake Worth has served as Dr. Lopez-Belio’s dental hygienist for 24 years. Originally from Boston, she relocated to Palm Beach County in her youth and graduated from Forest Hill High School. She was two rooms down taking x-rays at the time of the accident.
“I heard a car accelerating and then bottoming out,” Cerbone said. “I looked up and saw a car coming with enormous speed. ‘He’s not stopping,’ I thought.”
Cerbone ran down the hall to the scene of the accident. She noticed that the sink had been thrown across the room, ending up where Prieto had been sitting. “It was a very narrow escape,” Cerbone said. “If it had happened five minutes later, it could have been devastating.”
She hopes that the office is repaired quickly.
“I do not have a job now,” Cerbone lamented. “I am hoping the Village of Wellington will expedite the permitting for the construction of the treatment rooms.”
Like Dr. Lopez-Belio, she was not happy with the demeanor of the driver.
“I am upset by the disregard and lack of respect by the driver,” said Cerbone, who is the mother of two children, ages 20 and 17.
Nathaly Montoya of Palm Springs has served as Dr. Lopez-Belio’s office manager for seven years and has more than two decades of experience working in dental offices.
“I first realized something was wrong when I heard a loud bam — like something had dropped,” Montoya recalled. “I realized that something was wrong and saw a car in the operatory.”
Montoya’s next concern was making sure that everyone was OK. Days later, she is still suffering from the effects of being so close to the accident. “I can’t sleep,” she said. “I am working partially from home, but I am trying to recuperate psychologically.”
Montoya plans to continue working for Dr. Lopez-Belio when the office reopens. “She is wonderful — a great boss,” she said. “She is a sweet person and a really good clinician.”
Dr. Lopez-Belio’s preliminary estimates for the damages are in excess of $400,000. Her hope is to be able to resume dental hygiene appointments in two weeks, with a goal of restoring the practice within six weeks. An emergency fund will be utilized to pay the staff — whom she describes as “family” — while repairs are underway.
Dr. Lopez-Belio is not considering relocation in the wake of the incident. “I’ve been there 24 years,” she said. “The landlord is great.”