By Tamas Mondovics
As 2014 was coming to a close, wrong way driving accidents—some ending in fatality—were
making headlines throughout Hillsborough County.
While many wonder about the reasons for such incidents, local law enforcement officials are not confused as to the real cause of, or one common denominator that has become the underlying factor for the loss of the 11 lives just this year following wrong way driving accidents.
“One main reason is impairment,” said Hillsborough County Sheriff Office (HCSO) DUI Sergeant Troy Morgan. “There is definitely a problem and while the reports of wrong way driving is something we have seen more of in recent months, it is not new.”
The recent incidents Morgan was referring to included the accident involving a Brandon man, who was killed last month after he drove the wrong way on S.R. 60 in Plant City and struck another pickup head-on, critically injuring the driver, deputies said.
As a result, John J. Borota, 52, died at the scene, while Tyler N. Strickland, 28, of Lithia, was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital, where he was in critical but stable condition, investigators said.
Deputies said that alcohol or drug use by Borota was pending the result of toxicology testing.
Within days of the accident, a second motorist was arrested for driving under the influence as deputies responded to a wrong way driver called in by a concerned citizen.
According to deputies, a vehicle driven by Bluma Lantzy, 52, matched the description and tag given by the concerned citizen. When stopped, Lantzy emitted the odor of an alcoholic beverage from her breath and had bloodshot, watery eyes.
Field Sobriety exercises were conducted and impairment was observed, deputies said. Lantzy was arrested for Driving Under the Influence.
Adding to the list of wrong way drivers in the last month of 2014 was Tampa resident Daniel Palmer, 34, who was driving northbound in the southbound lanes of Veterans Expressway at Memorial Hwy.
Deputies were able to successfully stop Palmer as he drove his Toyota Camry and detected an odor of an alcoholic beverage emitting from the driver, delayed reaction, watery and red bloodshot eyes and reported that Palmer’s breath test at CBT with results were 0.172 and 0.165.
Many of these incidents are said to occur at night and many of the drivers are driving home from local bars or restaurants.
“It all comes down to personal responsibility and making the right choices when we are sober,” Morgan said. “It’s all about people caring about what happens to them and to others after the choices they make.”
Of course, Morgan, who under the direction of the Sheriff’s Office DUI division and with fellow deputies, are tirelessly working with local restaurants and establishments as well as local schools to raise awareness about programs that are in place to help make a difference.
Such programs include Operation 3D, a public awareness plan that is designed to enhance the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office ability to deal with problems commonly associated with motorists who drink and drive.
The plan hopes to encourage voluntary compliance of existing traffic laws by motorists by the dissemination of news releases, the development of public services announcements and awareness materials, all of which will serve to enhance the Sheriff’s Office enforcement efforts.
In 2006, Hillsborough County Sheriff, David Gee also launched Sheriff’s Alcohol Vendor Enforcement (S.A.V.E.) a program designed to partner with alcohol vendors and retailers as a proactive collaboration to inform and educate employees and managers.
“The goal is to reduce alcohol-related traffic crashes and death in Hillsborough County,” Morgan said, adding that many alcohol vendors in Hillsborough County have embraced S.A.V.E., and invited the Sheriff’s Office to conduct training sessions for employees, and undercover operations to reveal underage drinkers, and counterfeit and fake forms of identification.
Morgan emphasized that respecting the various awareness efforts, and acknowledging the real reasons for many motor vehicle accidents will result in safer roadways for the traveling public.
For more information about Operation 3D, S.A.V.E. as well as HCSO’s youth drivers safety programs, visit www.hcso.tampa.fl.us.