By Rachel Brown Hackney
Officers with the Sarasota Police Department are continuing their investigation into a fatal motorcycle accident that occurred in the early morning hours of Feb. 16 at the intersection of Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue, Genevieve Judge, the department’s public information officer, reported.
The intersection was closed from approximately midnight until 5 a.m., Judge added.
It was the fourth fatal accident in the same 2-mile stretch of Siesta Drive in two years, the chair of a neighborhood activist group pointed out to The Sarasota News Leader.
Members of Make Siesta Drive Safer (MSDS), a committee of the Bay Island Siesta Association, have been urging City and County of Sarasota leaders and representatives of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) since 2017 to take steps to — as their name makes clear — make Siesta Drive safer.
Just after midnight on Feb. 16, a motorcyclist was traveling northbound on Higel Avenue when the person apparently lost control of the vehicle, Judge explained in a press release. The driver then was struck by another vehicle that was traveling southbound, she added. The motorcyclist died at the scene as a result of the injuries sustained in the incident, Judge wrote.
The next of kin of the motorcyclist had not been notified, Judge noted in her Feb. 16 news release; therefore, she was unable to release the victim’s name. She still was unable to release that information prior to the publication deadline for this issue of Siesta Sand.
It was unknown at that point, Judge noted, whether speed, drugs or alcohol contributed to the accident.
In a statement it released on Feb. 16, the MSDS committee wrote that it “is saddened to learn of yet another fatal accident at the curve of Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue …”
Based on information the members had received, the statement added that the driver of the motorcycle was struck by a van that was traveling south on the road.
“Our group is even more concerned for the fact that, even after we have carefully documented the high number of accidents at this location, and informed FDOT, only minor modifications have been made by FDOT,” the statement added. Those changes, it continued, have not proven “sufficient to get drivers to slow down enough to navigate the curve safely.”
After taking FDOT representatives on a site visit in the summer of 2017, members of the Bay Island Siesta Association and Make Siesta Drive Safer won agreement from FDOT to reduce the speed limit in the vicinity of the Higel/Siesta Drive curve and to enhance the warning signs for drivers on both the northbound and southbound approaches.
FDOT also re-striped the curve in an effort to provide clearer indications to drivers about where they should be on the road as they navigate through the curve.
Among the other new measures FDOT installed, electronic signs light up if a vehicle is traveling faster than the posted 30-mph speed on the approach to the curve. The signs flash “25” for the suggested speed limit and a warning to slow down.
Make Siesta Drive Safer members have been encouraged by the prospect that Sarasota County will be taking over control of
MSDS renewing requests for safety measures
In the statement released following the Feb. 16 accident, Make Siesta Drive Safer reported that its representatives met in October 2018 with County Engineer Spencer Anderson. “[O]ur committee was asked to assist in filling in the County staff on our communications with FDOT, which we did with a [PowerPoint] presentation which documented all of our combined efforts since April 2017,” the statement added.
While all the facts were not available as of the weekend, MSDS statement continued, “[The Feb. 16] accident plays into the common scenario of most crashes here, where the northbound traffic does not understand/appreciate the severity of the curve that is upcoming. Yes, we understand that the County is adverse to using speed bumps, but there is a DEFINITE NEED for something to alert drivers to the danger of this curve,” the statement emphasized.
“The Make Siesta Drive Safer Committee is convinced that our specific asks for actions along this corridor remain appropriate … and [its members] are committed to working with Sarasota County in any way to achieve these goals,” the statement pointed out. “We have reached out several times so far this year in an effort to continue collaboration with the County, but have yet to hear back from them. This recent tragedy will be our call to action to turn up the volume so they hear us, and allow us to help in eliminating the ongoing parade of fatalities that we are seeing here in our neighborhood,” the statement said.
The following are the Make Siesta Drive Safer requests for improvements along the 2-mile segment of Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue, the statement added:
• Lower the speed limit along the full length of the corridor to 30 mph.
• Address the safety issues in the Siesta Drive/Higel curve. (In an email County Engineer Anderson sent county leaders in early February to update them on the road swap timeline, he pointed out that the Road Transfer Agreement is expected to define terms for FDOT to make improvements to the 90-degree curve at the Higel/Siesta Drive intersection.)
• Put in at least two crosswalks (at Shell Road and Hamilton Avenue).