Sunday Fatality Spurs Calls For Greater Safety
Activists Say Traffic Laws Need To Be Tougher
E-mail MIAMI (CBS4 I-TEAM) –
On the Rickenbacker Causeway Friday, bicyclists shared the roadway with oft-times speeding cars and trucks.
“It’s like the Indianapolis 500 out here,” cyclist Dan Devane said. “The cars are going way too fast. It’s dangerous.”
Many cyclists rode their bikes on the sidewalks, rather than risk it out in the bike lane. Cyclist Jay Nunez was among those who chose to pedal along the sidewalk, protected from the roadway by a concrete barrier. Nunez said he won’t use the bike lane, “not after what happened the other day.”
What happened the other day, Sunday, was a bicyclist was run over by an allegedly drunk driver who swerved into the east-bound bike lane on the Bear Cut bridge stretch of the causeway. The nearby Miami-Dade fire station was closed, operating on scaled back hours due to budget cuts. A CBS4 News I-Team investigation revealed Miami-Dade 911 dispatchers may have bungled the call by sending help from a station ten miles away, rather than calling on much closer rescue units from Miami or Key Biscayne–as department policies seem to require. The cyclist, 44-year-old Christopher Le Canne, died waiting for rescue.
The emergency response is under investigation, amid a growing call from citizens and some Miami-Dade commissioners to reopen the closed nearby station.
Thursday night bicyclists showed county commissioners photos of accidents they have been involved in on the Rickenbacker, and demanded heightened traffic enforcement.
“I survived what this gentleman (Le Canne) did not survive,” Bart Sherwood said. Sherwood–who was critically injured after being hit by a bread truck on the causeway a few years ago–said motorists have to be made to slow down.
“What’s going to stop people from getting killed is if you put deterrent signs at the toll booth, where people enter the key, saying, “Speeders Beware!” Sherwood said.
Cyclists on the Rickenbacker Friday – one of the most popular recreation spots in Miami-Dade – also said there needs to be more than a white line separating the narrow bike land from the traffic lanes. Something as simple as raised reflectors along the dividing line, cyclists say, would be inexpensive and effective.
Cyclists could also help protect themselves by staying in their lane. A CBS4 News camera captured several bicyclists Friday encroaching on the traffic lane, some riding two abreast.
The alleged drunk driver in Sunday’s fatal crash, 29-year-old Carlos Bertonatti, had a history of 42 previous traffic citations, including speeding for reckless driving, running stop signs, running red lights, and speeding. He was also charged last year with driving with a suspended license.
Traffic safety activists say penalties for chronic violators need to be more severe.
“They may have a suspended license, but then when they’re caught, there’s really no penalty,” said Jay Fraioli, a reserve state trooper and member of the board of directors of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “Nobody’s doing jail time for a suspended license. Nobody takes it seriously until somebody dies.”
M.A.D.D. executive director Janet Mondshein said police work hard to combat drunk driving, but she would like to see more DUI checkpoints looking for those who might be impaired.
“If there had been a DUI checkpoint on the causeway Sunday morning, this crash might have been avoided,” Mondshein said.
Bertonatti was freed on bond over the objections of prosecutors who fear he may flee to his native Venezuela. The United States has an extradition agreement with Venezuela, but it was crafted after the Hugo Chavez regime came to power. Chavez is a frequent, vocal critic of the U.S.
Bertonatti’s attorney, Susy Ribero-Ayala, told CBS4 News her client “fully recognizes there are consequences” to face and intends to remain in the U.S. “He is focused on the victim,” Ribero-Ayala told CBS4’s Gary Nelson. “He is trying to reach out to the victim’s family and express his true remorse.”
There were several Miami-Dade police officers working on the Rickenbacker Friday, snagging speeders. A department spokesman said the enforcement was routine, and not a direct response to the uproar that has followed Sunday’s fatality.