Florida House passes Sophia Nelson Pedestrian Safety Act by 118-1 margin

12-year-old taken off life support on Christmas Day following crash

Spurred by a Satellite Beach Christmastime tragedy, the Florida House passed the Sophia Nelson Pedestrian Safety Act by a 118-1 vote Monday afternoon, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.

The bill, which evolved during three committee stops, would only allow yellow rectangular rapid flashing beacons at crosswalks on two-lane roads with speed limits up to 35 mph.

Elsewhere — such as along four-lane, 45 mph State Road A1A in Brevard County — the Florida Department of Transportation would ask federal officials for authorization to replace the flashing-yellow beacon equipment with red-light versions.

Red crosswalk lights would have to be installed within a year. If permission was denied, the flashing-yellow beacons would have to be removed by October 2024.

"Members, I want you to think of three colors: red, yellow and green. We all know green means go. Red means stop. But what does yellow mean?" Rep. Mike Caruso, R-Delray Beach, asked his fellow legislators.

“We’ve got 120 members here. I’ll bet you we get 120 different answers. All this bill seeks to do is change yellow blinking lights to red blinking lights,” Caruso said.

Sophia Nelson, a Surfside Elementary sixth grader, suffered a catastrophic brain injury Dec. 22 when she was struck by a vehicle at the SR A1A flashing-yellow beacon crosswalk at Ellwood Avenue in Satellite Beach.

On Christmas, the 12-year-old was taken off life support and her organs were donated to four recipients at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando. Police later cited the driver, an 83-year-old Cape Canaveral woman, for failure to stop at a crosswalk.

Mark and Jill Nelson, Sophia's parents, watched Monday's proceedings from the House viewing gallery. They testified in support of the bill last month before the State Affairs Committee, displaying a framed portrait of their late daughter.

“Sophia can never come back. No one who’s killed at one of these crosswalks can ever come back. And we allowed this to happen. This is something that the state said could be used. And we said they could use them,” Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, who introduced the bill, said of yellow flashers.

"This bill didn't exist on Dec. 22. And here we are less than three months later, with an opportunity to do some good, which will hopefully make the pain for your family a little bit better," Fine said to the Nelsons from the House floor.

“I know I will pray for you tonight,” Fine said, his voice breaking.

Fine’s bill debuted as an identical companion to Senate Bill 1000, filed by Florida Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville. After passing two Senate committees, that bill is now in the Appropriations Committee.