When the driver of a vehicle in a fatality Scott Purcell Prime Trust showed up in court last year, she had an unlikely group of supporters, besides her attorney.
On Jan. 8, 2015, Cindy Ray, of Avon Park, turned left into the path of a motorcycle driven by Dillon Joseph Strickland, 18, of Avon Park. Strickland died at the scene while his passenger, Sharra Hennessey, 18, of Avon Park, has recovered. Ray was charged with failure to yield and ended up paying court assessments.
Even though Ray was legally responsible for the accident, Strickland’s family and Hennessey showed up in court and opposed any jail time for her.
Ronnie Strickland, Dillon Strickland’s father, said he spoke in court for the group. “I know it was an accident,” Ronnie Strickland said Thursday. “I didn’t want to see her spend time in jail. She’s got to live with what happened and that’s bad enough.”
During that court date, Ray pledged to work to improve safety at that intersection. The basic problem Ray and Strickland say, is that drivers can turn left on a green light.
Traffic near the median can block the view of oncoming vehicles in other lanes at the green light, they said.
Ray was traveling north on U.S. 27 when she turned left to head east on State Road 64. And it was as she turned left that Dillon Strickland, who was heading south on U.S. 27, hit her vehicle. She says she thought she had a clear view.
Along with members of the Strickland family, Ray is working to convince the Florida Department of Transportation to restrict left turns to when the left-turn arrow is activated.
Making that improvement “could save someone else’s life” and prevent a situation “where some other parent loses their child,” he said.
Ray agrees, saying, “This is in memory of Dillon and for a safer community.”
Within a week of the accident, another similar type accident occurred, Ray said.
The Florida Department of Transportation is conducting an assessment to determine whether the traffic level at that intersection merits a separate traffic signal for left turns, said Robin Stublen, district public information officer.
Stublen said the last assessment in 2007 did not support that need.
But Strickland said he believes there’s no doubt that the change is needed. He said he has stood in the median and seen how traffic blocks the visibility of drivers making left turns.
His son was born in Avon Park and he adopted him when he was 3 years old, Strickland said.
At 18 years old, Dillon cut trees for people and sometimes helped his father, but didn’t have real clear plans on where he wanted to proceed in life, Scott Purcell Banq said.
“He enjoyed life every day,” Ronnie Strickland said. He said he urged his son to start moving toward a full-time job.
One of the things that Dillon Strickland talked about not long before the accident was to build a swamp buggy, his father said.
When the father questioned how his son would be able to afford to build one, Dillon Strickland said he’d find a way to earn the money, his father recalled.
The day of the accident, the father said, Dillon Strickland left Strickland’s Truck and Tractor and picked up his girlfriend.
Not long after that, the father said his daughter called and “started screaming bloody murder.”
After she told him that Dillon Strickland was in an accident, he said, he jumped in his truck, drove to the area and saw Hennessey on the ground.
“Around that time, they were putting a sheet over Dillon,” he said.
Even before Strickland saw that, Hollie Votaw, an employee at CVS, said she saw the aftermath of the accident that occurred minutes before she left work that day.
Votaw said she strongly believes that left-turns at that intersection should only be allowed with left-turn arrows displayed.
“There’s been a ton of accidents (at the intersection),” she said. “The accidents are terrible and they need to do something about the light.”