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Every year the Coast Guard, Florida Marine Patrol, and local law enforcement agencies note a marked increase in injuries and deaths stemming from the negligent and careless operation of marine craft and water recreational vehicles. Ira Leesfield, Chairman of the Resort Torts Section of the American Association of Justice, has written extensively on this topic pointing out “it is not just small water craft but jet ski, parasailing, and small water related activities that are contributing to the high incidents of serious injuries in the Florida keys”. Tourists and visitors from all over the United States and abroad descend on the Florida keys for the beautiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean as well as inland waterways.

pic-diver-flag.jpgThe firm of Leesfield Scolaro has promoted water safety and the necessity of regulating parasailing activities which coupled with snorkeling, diving, fishing, and boating are a huge industry for Monroe County residents. Now, there is an added safety fact as cell phone use and texting creep into the prevention and safety issues surrounding water activities that require full concentration.

This firm is now seeing boating collisions where an operator was distracted by cell phone use and in recent years the death of a Key West child was indirectly linked to the boat operator’s cell phone inattention. Unquestionably the news for that weekend will be an unnecessary loss or tragedy which could have been prevented by greater diligence and better enforced navigational rules. The waters surrounding the Florida keys are a majestic natural resource which must be treated with respect. Just recently, we are seeing injuries and deaths related to diving and pool activities including electrocution from water source. Leesfield Scolaro completed a $10 million result for electrocution from a faulty pool wire. Families must be on the look out and diligent to watch their young children in any water related environment. Hotels and other forms of lodging must be careful and selective about which vendors they allow to use their facilities for the purpose of water recreation rental.
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In a recent study published by Dangerous by Design 2014, South Florida, including the Florida Keys is the fourth most dangerous area in the entire country for pedestrians.

Between 2003 and 2012, over 47,000 pedestrians were killed in traffic-related accidents. The top 3 worst areas for pedestrians are New York, Los Angeles, and South Florida, which alone accounts for 1,539 pedestrian fatalities.

The Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI) is an indicator which measures the likelihood of being killed as a pedestrian along major roadways. The index is based on the amount of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 residents and percentage of people who commute on foot. The national average for the PDI is 52.2. South Florida’s score was 145.33.

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As just discussed in our most recent post “Settlement reached in Florida Keys seven mile bridge fatal car accident” head-on crashes in the Florida Keys is all too common. Yesterday, 22-year-old Kristine Rivera was killed when the vehicle she was in, operated by Didier Miles, 24, slammed head-on into a taxi that was stopped on Overseas Highway, waiting to make a turn.

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Islamorada Fire-Rescue firefighters wheel Didier Miles to an ambulance Monday evening. (Photo taken by David Goodhue- Courtesy of KeysNet.com)

Details of the accident have yet to be released to the public, however it is likely that speeding and/or distraction may have been the cause for the umpteenth time. A witness came forward and said to a Miami Herald reporter that Kristine Rivera, the now deceased woman, rear-ended his vehicle approximately 4 miles south of where the fatal accident occurred.

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February 18, 2010- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) employee Elizabeth Overstreet was driving a FWCC truck northbound on U.S. Highway 1 near Marathon, Florida, while towing a trailer and an enormous 31-foot fishing boat. Overstreet was driving at the posted speed limit of 55 mph when she realized that the trailer and boat she was towing began to fishtail from side to side. Overstreet suddenly lost all control of the trailer and boat, which caused the FWCC truck to jackknife directly into oncoming traffic in the middle of the open freeway.

At that time, Ruth was driving her van in the southbound lane with a friend to visit friends and family in Big Pine Key. Suddenly, and without warning, Ruth noticed the FWCC truck barreling directly into her only path on the freeway, and she immediately made a defense maneuver in a desperate attempt to avoid a collision. Unfortunately, there was no escaping the FWCC truck, which ultimately plowed directly into Ruth Ann’s van. The tragic result was a massive head-on collision and explosion with two fatalities and catastrophic injuries to the survivors.

S-4-7 FWC 2-1010 014_resize.jpgRuth miraculously survived the collision and ensuing explosion, but her nightmare had just begun. At 5:26 pm, she was loaded onto a stretcher for emergency airlift to Jackson Memorial Trauma unit with nine broken bones and bleeding profusely from numerous lacerations on her face. During this helicopter flight to the trauma unit, Ruth was forced to ponder the gruesome images of her beloved friend’s mangled body which remained lifeless in Ruth’s van.

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It almost invariably happens the same way for many people who travel the roads of Monroe County, and Key West in particular. You are driving on Flagler Avenue, or Truman Avenue, or North Roosevelt Boulevard, when, out of nowhere, a distracted driver crashes into your car.

Invariably, the at-fault driver who caused the accident will exit his vehicle and offer an apology while asking if you and everyone in your car is ok. An officer from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office will respond to the scene, listen to all parties involved and will issue a citation to the negligent driver. If you are hurt in the incident, the severity of your injuries will dictate how your personal injury claim will be handled. The magnitude of your injuries is the only variable in this scenario.

A victim of a traffic accident caused by a third-party in Florida has one out of four chances the negligent driver does not have insurance (nearly 24 percent of all drivers in Florida don’t have insurance, according to the nonprofit Insurance Research Council.)

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On Monday morning, Judy Montague was diving off Key West Bight, a historic seaport in Key West, was hit by the propellers of a 72-foot yacht.

Trauma Star.jpgJudy Montague was transported by helicopter to Ryder Trauma Center in Miami where she underwent surgery to her leg. Her status, while unknown, has been reported as remaining critical.

The cause of the incident is still unclear today. Capt. Pedro Arpon, who was operated the yacht, The Palagon, at the time, is still being heard by the investigators and charges have not been levied yet. The first element of answer came from Officer Bobby Dube of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) who is investigating the incident.

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On December 11, 2012, a car accident in Saddlebunch Keys saw one person transported to a local hospital and another airlifted emergently to Miami. The Sheriff’s Office has yet to provide the names of the victims or how the multiple vehicle accident occurred shortly before 5pm.

This is the latest major motor vehicle accident with injuries in the Florida Keys. Monroe County has a long history of injuries and deaths caused by car accidents, most of which happen on the highway leading into Monroe County from the mainland. Overseas Highway is the single way in and single way out of the County. In 2010, the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration (NTHSA) recorded 21 fatalities due to motor vehicle crashes in Monroe County, and 3 fatalities involving bicyclists.

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The reason for such a sad record can be attributed to multiple factors. One is the road itself. The highway presents unique and dangerous conditions due to the high volume of visitor traffic on a single highway, and the close proximity of county residential areas. On top of that, the road consists of a series of bridges connecting islands, narrow in many places, and offers many distractions. The main reason listed by the local authorities and the NHTSA is the binge alcohol consumption associated with vacationing contributes greatly to high fatalities and accident rates.

The NHTSA recently published that in 2010, among the many factors most influencing fatal crashes in Monroe County, alcohol consumption and alcohol-impaired drivers amounted to a whooping 22% of all fatal crashes.

To put these numbers into perspective, Florida CHARTS compared alcohol-related fatal crashes in Monroe County with the rest of the State of Florida (per 100,000 persons). The verdict is clear and troubling. In 2001, Monroe County had a death rate twice as high as the rest of the State (12.6 to 6.1). In 2010, while the State’s rate decreased to 4.2, Monroe County’s death rate grew to a monumental 19.2. In other words, Monroe County has a death rate 5 times higher than the rest of the State of Florida when it comes to alcohol-related fatal accidents.
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Yesterday, the annual Fantasy Fest was drawing to a close, but countless visitors and locals will not forget several terrible accidents which caused Overseas Highway to be shutdown for several hours by police.

Monroe County Sheriff’s Deputy Becky Herrin told the Sun-Sentinel that they “expect heavy traffic, possibly with a bottleneck in Islamorada that sometimes stretches to the Long Key Bridge. Our roads can only hold so many cars. And Fantasy Fest pretty much maxes out our traffic.”

accident_marathon.jpgDuring the last weekend of the festivities in Key West, Florida Highway Patrol and numerous Sheriff’s Deputies responded to more than 21 motor vehicle accidents. One of them involved the collision of a motorcycle with another car at mile marker 29.5 in Big Pine Key. One of the two people on the motorcycle was severely injured and rushed to Fishermen’s Hospital in Marathon where he was pronounced dead. The second occupant was flown to Miami by helicopter for further medical treatment.

Several hours earlier, two vehicles collided at mile marker 41 on the seven-mile bridge, which required the emergency rescue and transport to three people to Fishermen’s Hospital.

Over the years, the road to and from Key West has seen thousands of car accidents, with many resulting in fatalities. The causes for these crashes are often times attributed to speeding, alcohol, or texting. A study has revealed that between 2006 and 2010, Monroe County averaged 1,329 car accidents every year. Also, in the last 34 years, ending in 2009, the number of fatal car accidents throughout the county of Monroe was drastically higher than the average for the rest of the state of Florida. In the past ten years, there have been more than 220 fatal accidents in Monroe County.

Leesfield Scolaro have established their offices in Key West over three decades ago and have been a staple in the personal injury landscape in Key West and throughout the Florida Keys.
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In its most recent issue, the Key West Citizen inserted a photograph of the driver of a scooter laying in the middle of the road, on a stretcher, receiving emergent care from Key West firefighters.

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That scene is all too common in Key West and repeats itself several times a day throughout the entire Florida Keys. Over the years, fatal and catastrophic accidents involving people driving scooters and pedestrians have remained almost double the average for the rest of the State of Florida. In fact, between 1992 and 2006, the number of fatal accidents to pedestrians alone is almost twice as high as for the rest of Florida (7.7 per 100,000 in Monroe County; 4.3 per 100,000 in Florida)

Every year, millions of tourists visit the Florida Keys. While some of them are cruise passengers and can only stay less than a day, most tourists will spend an average of 3 days in and around Key West. The preferred mode of transportation is to rent a scooter and ride the Key West streets while enjoying the scenery. Scooters are fun to ride, cheaper than renting a car, and ideal for the streets of Key West. As fun as it sounds, riding a scooter or a moped is more dangerous than it seems, in Key West in particular.

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Keys Gate Charter School teacher Andre Martinez is currently behind bars, held in jail on a $15,000 bond according to the Miami-Dade County Department of Corrections.

andremartinez.jpgAndre Martinez was a teacher for several years at the Homestead school, where he was teaching cinematography. Monday, Homestead Police arrested him and charges him with two counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor student. While it is uncertain at this time how old the two young girls were when the crimes allegedly occurred, the investigating officers confirmed that they had acted on a tip from a fellow student, possibly one of Martinez’s victims.

The police is now conducting an open investigation in hope of finding additional victims if they exist. The crimes for which Martinez was charged on Monday are said to have started in 2010 and apparently were still ongoing at the time of the arrest.

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