'It's virtually a freeway:' Family wants change after Florida woman killed in CR 473 crash

Lake County hires consultant for safety study

By Adrianna Iwasinski - Investigative Reporter

LEESBURG, Fla. - The sounds of speeding cars and crunching metal have neighbors fed up in one part of Leesburg.

One family is fighting for change after their loved one was struck and killed by a driver going more than 30 mph over the speed limit on that same stretch of road. 

"It’s virtually a freeway," said Bob Slamka, who traveled with his father all the way from Wisconsin to revisit the spot where his sister was killed. "There's so much traffic here. I've seen freeways with less travel than this place."

Jan. 12 marked two years since Carolynne "Terry" Slamka died. Her family says she was walking home from a visit to the store around 8  p.m. that night, when she was hit by a car speeding down CR 473 near Treadwell School Road.

"It's going to be hard to get some of them to slow down, that's for darn sure," Robert Slamka said, as he used his walker to slowly survey the stretch of road where his daughter died.

A spokesperson for Lake County confirmed there have been 12 crashes at that intersection in the past five years, not including the pedestrian fatality.

Five of those crashes happened just last year, which as a result, warrants a safety study at the intersection.

"The consultant is beginning within the next few weeks and it will likely be completed within three months," said Elisha Pappacoda, communications director for the Lake County Board of County Commissioners. "We have done a lighting analysis, and since the majority of the crashes are during the day, the intersection does not qualify for street lighting. The signing and striping are up to date at the intersection."

The Slamkas say something should have been done long ago, and so do neighbors.

Leesburg resident Lora Dayton has lived near the intersection for more than 40 years and says she was at home the night Terry was killed.

"It gives me chills just to think about," Dayton said. "I could hear the screaming."

Dayton says something needs to be done to prevent another tragedy like that from ever happening again.

"It's way past due," Dayton said. "I'm hoping you can get some good results and we can see a light go in here real soon."

Bob and Robert Slamka agree.

"If they don't see something that is a substantial warning, you're going to wind up having people who are going to continue to hit people," Bob Slamka said.

Robert Slamka says he just wants something tangible to help honor the tragic loss of his daughter.

"She didn't deserve that," said Robert Slamka. "You don't visually cry anymore, but it hurts."

But the Slamkas are also upset the state attorney's office declined to file criminal charges against the speeding driver, especially since he was recently arrested for speeding and drinking and driving in another state.

Records obtained by News 6 from Warren County New York show Joseph Anthony Downey was arrested on Sept. 4, 2018 at 10:30 p.m. in the town of Warrensburg, New York. The incident report states a patrol officer's radar caught Downey going 52 mph in a 35 mph zone, and when the officer pulled Downey over, he could clearly smell a very strong odor of an alcoholic beverage.

[READ: Joseph Downey's New York arrest report]

The report states a Pre Screen Breath Test showed Downey's current BAC to be a .12 percent and a later Chemical Breath Test showed his BAC to be .13 percent. The Warren County Sheriff's Office confirms Downey was charged with Driving While Intoxicated, and also issued a speeding violation.

"He doesn't seem to care," Bob Slamka said.

Bob Slamka says he can't understand why Downey was only issued a civil traffic citation for the fatal crash that killed his sister. He says traffic reports show the driver was going more than 30 mph over the speed limit. Court records show Downey pleaded guilty to speeding, received a $250 fine, and had his driver's license suspended for six months.

"Yeah, I have an issue with that," Bob Slamka said.

The State Attorney's office for the Fifth Judicial Circuit of Florida, which serves Marion, Lake, Citrus, Sumter, and Hernando Counties, did agree to review the case at the request of the Slamkas.

[READ - Decline to file for Joseph Anthony Downey]

However, after weeks of review, the office declined to file any criminal charges. In the decline to file memorandum, it states even though data retrieved from the event data recorder showed Downey going 72.7 mph one second before the crash, according to Florida law speed alone is an insufficient basis for the filing of a vehicular homicide.

In this case, the state would be unable to meet its burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant "in an intentional, knowing, and purposeful manner was driving at the time of the incident in a manner demonstrating a conscious and intentional indifference to consequences and with knowledge that damage is likely to be done to persons or property."

But the Slamkas are not satisfied with the review.

"What I've found is they refuse to allow her to be in the crosswalk," Bob Slamka said. "Placing her in the crosswalk makes this a criminal action."

Bob Slamka says an independent review done by their own private investigators show there was white paint on the sole of the shoe his sister was wearing the night she was killed, placing her at the crosswalk, not outside it.

"The white paint could have only happened from that middle stripe," Bob Slamka said.

But the SAO report disputes that, stating even if Carolynne Slamka was in the crosswalk, "that discrepancy would not have changed the ability of the State of Florida to prosecute the case."

The Slamkas still want an outside agency to do an independent complete review of the investigation. 

"Who the hell is the law protecting here?" said Robert Slamka.

So now the father and son are focusing on something they can change, getting drivers to slow down along County Road 473.

"Public awareness is really going to be the most important thing if we're going to get anything done here," Bob Slamka said.

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