Brevard County Commissioner Curt Smith said Christmas will never be the same for the grieving Satellite Beach family of Sophia Nelson, 12, who was fatally struck by a vehicle Dec. 22 at a push-button flashing-yellow crosswalk on State Road A1A.
Moving forward, Smith told News 6 partner Florida Today he vows to campaign for modifications of the Florida Department of Transportation’s newly installed flashing crosswalk beacons along the beachside highway. Specifically, he’d like to “get these damn things taken down or at least changed to red flashing lights that people understand.”
"They're all wringing their hands that we lead the nation in pedestrian and bicycle deaths. And then we come up with stupid ideas like this," Smith said of FDOT officials in Tallahassee.
"Who the hell's running the show up there? I mean, it just doesn't make sense," he said.
Nelson, a sixth-grader at Surfside Elementary, was placed on life support after the crash. On Christmas, she donated organs to four recipients at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando.
Thursday night, Smith texted Florida Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, and Florida Rep. Tyler Sirois, R-Merritt Island, asking for crosswalk changes. Friday morning, Mayfield called Alan Hyman, an FDOT director of transportation operations based in DeLand.
“They are very aware of the situation. They are re-evaluating these 18 crosswalks that are along A1A,” Mayfield said.
Mayfield said FDOT officials will deliver a crosswalk presentation to the Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization governing board, which is comprised of the five-member Brevard County Commission and a variety of other local elected officials. The board next meets Feb. 13.
"The Department mourns the loss of life on Florida’s roadways. One life lost is one too many," said Steve Olson, FDOT spokesman.
"The district traffic safety team will continue to analyze traffic conditions on the State Road A1A corridor, and examine opportunities for additional means and methods to increase safety," Olson said.
"This includes ongoing education, outreach, and enforcement with local partners, law enforcement and the Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization," he said.
Crews installed the first of 18 SR A1A "rapid rectangular flashing beacon" crosswalks this spring in Satellite Beach. Work continues — alongside rows of orange barrels — on raised concrete mid-block crossings within the highway median from Millennium Park in Indian Harbour Beach southward to Second Avenue in Indialantic.
When finished, these pedestrian crossings will feature signage, curb ramps, pavement markings, sidewalk modifications and lighting. Lane closures can be expected through early 2020, FDOT reports.
The fatal crash remained under investigation Friday by Satellite Beach police.
Saturday afternoon, a sign-waving protest is planned at and near the Ellwood Avenue crosswalk in Satellite Beach, where Nelson was struck by a vehicle.
"I'm not sure whose bright idea it was to install these things but it's time we take a stand and tell them that the only place for a crosswalk on a busy highway is at an intersection with a stoplight!" organizer Daniel Willemin wrote on the event's Facebook page.
The demonstration starts at 2 p.m. with a prayer and moment of silence for Nelson. Afterward, sign-waving demonstrators will walk back and forth inside the crosswalk to grab the attention of SR A1A motorists, Willemin said.
"If drivers see that a lot of people are crossing with signs, it catches eyes a lot more than just people crossing naturally," he said.
Willemin said he also supports HAWK crosswalk beacon systems, which use pedestrian-activated red lights to stop oncoming traffic.
Georganna Gillette, Space Coast TPO executive director, said she welcomes an FDOT crosswalk presentation. She and Mayfield said beachside residents had lobbied for additional SR A1A crosswalks for years.
The Space Coast TPO participated in Satellite Beach "pop-up" crosswalk educational events in June and October, distributing tip cards and chatting with pedestrians.
"The TPO is committed to continuing to partner with all of our local agencies, law enforcement and the DOT. And we will review any additional opportunities for educational outreach and enforcement," Gillette said.
About two months ago, Smith said he watched two crosswalk pedestrians narrowly avoid getting struck by a vehicle on Babcock Street "because they trusted those damn yellow lights flashing in front of Palm Bay High School on a rainy night" after a football game. He also cited the December 2017 crosswalk crash that killed an 11-year-old boy on Post Road in Melbourne.
He said push-button crosswalks can give children a false sense of security — particularly in an age when many distracted drivers are texting, using radios and talking on the phone.
"I want (FDOT) to re-examine this whole process. No. 1, there should have been an educational process before they even started using these things. They should have educated the public that this was coming, instead of just springing it on the public," Smith said.
Calling Nelson's death "an absolute tragedy," Sirois said many SR A1A crosswalk pedestrians expect to "hit a button, and a light starts flashing, and somehow it makes these areas safe to travel through."
"I think most drivers look at a blinking yellow light, and they think 'caution.' They don't think 'stop.' The concern I have is, people don't really understand what these blinking lights are for," Sirois said.
“And I think that they provide kind of a false sense of safety for pedestrians,” he said.