Driving Change: A family's struggle without its matriarch

POLK COUNTY, Fla. – “I lost my mother to an automobile accident – she was killed by a 19-year-old who lost control of his vehicle while trying to get a hold of his phone off of the floorboard.”

These are the chilling words of Marcia Waldron.

We met Waldron last month when she, along with several other viewers, came to the WKMG studios to share their stories about the dangers of texting and driving. One year prior, Wadron’s mother, 76-year-old Martha Jackson, was killed in Polk County en route to Avon Park from Orlando.

[RELATED: Driver avoids sentence 3 years after causing deadly crash]

“Her normal check-in spot is on Highway 27,” Waldron told us. “There’s a little McDonald’s right there after she gets off I-4. There’s a certain amount of time it takes her to get to my grandmother’s house and she normally calls us when she gets there and starts unloading.”

Waldron and her twin sister initially thought their mother had forgotten to check in, but when they called their grandmother and found out Jackson hadn’t arrived, they started to worry.

“After it had been over an hour, two hours past the time she was supposed to show up, we realized there was a chance that something had happened to her,” Waldron said. She and her sister retraced her mother’s route, calling hospitals and the Highway Patrol along the way, but to no avail.

“Nobody had found her, seen her. But by the time we got to my grandmother’s house, there was a patrol en route to meet us.” 

Hours earlier, Jackson’s 2006 Toyota Corolla was hit head-on by a Ford F-250 pickup driven by Daniel Lightsey. A trooper who responded to the accident wrote in his report that Lightsey told him he had dropped his cellphone and lost control of the pickup while reaching for it.

Lightsey was northbound on Highway 27 while Jackson was in the opposite direction.

“He over-corrected after losing it a little bit off the right side of the road,” Waldron said. “He spun back through the northbound lane going through the median and ended up in the southbound lane landing on top of my mother’s car.”

Lightsey’s F-250 barrel-rolled through the median and into the path of Jackson’s car. In the aftermath of the wreck, the two vehicles sat mangled on the shoulder of Highway 27 with the Corolla unrecognizable. The airbags and safety equipment of the 2,800-pound Toyota were no match for the 6,000-pound crew cab 4x4.

“My mom was on the other side of the highway and was affected by somebody who was just reaching for a phone,” Waldron said. “To me there is no difference in causing a death from reaching on the floorboard for your phone, versus a DUI.”

For Waldron and her family, the pain of their loss intensified when, during sentencing, 10th Judicial Circuit Judge Robert G. Fegers, failed to realize the crash had resulted in the death of their mother. Fegers originally handed down a $164 penalty for a fine and court costs to Lightsey, who was only charged with careless driving.

“My sister sent letters to the judge and the clerk of the court,” Waldron said because the family couldn’t believe the penalty for killing their mother was less than $200.

And they were right.

Under Florida Statute s. 318.14(1): 

“If another person dies as a result of the noncriminal infraction, the person cited may be required to perform 120 community service hours under s. 316.027(4), in addition to any other penalties.”

After missing his first court date, Waldron and her sister made sure they were present when Fegers called Lightsey back into court for resentencing.

“The judge apologized to him for having to give him more of a citation,” she said. “(He) said, 'I’m sorry but it’s written down that if there’s a death involved, this is what we have to sentence you with.'”

That mandatory sentence now resulted in Lightsey’s license being suspended for six months, a fine of an additional $1,000, and an order directly from the Judge to perform the 120 hours of community service at a trauma center or hospital.

Even with the additional punishment, Waldron and her family still didn’t believe the outcome was very fair to her family.

“If there is an accident involved in it they have to have a bigger offense because ... it’s somebody’s life,” she said. “My mother did nothing wrong…He still has a life and my mother lost hers at 76.”

About the Authors:

Emmy Award-winning anchor Matt Austin joined the News 6 team in June 2011 and has been the evening news co-anchor since December 2013.

Donovan is WKMG-TV's executive producer of digital enterprise