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Family of Pasco crash victim wants to spare others their pain

TRINITY — One rainy day at the end of June, Christine Gilmore sent her husband, Mike, home to pick up her daughter.

Courtney Little, 17, had her own car – a 2008 Chevrolet Aveo – but Gilmore didn't want her driving the 12.6 miles to the family's Trinity fitness store/gym for work.

It had been raining and Gilmore was nervous.

“I sent (my husband) to pick her up and they were both so mad at me,” Gilmore said, her voice cracking, fighting back tears. “… I said I'm not worried about the rain coming from the sky. I'm worried about the rain on that road. Ten days later, she's gone. It was raining. The same, identical situation.”

On July 2, Courtney was driving her Aveo south on Moon Lake Road. It had just rained.

In the passenger seat was her friend, Kimberlee Markou, 16, whom Little was driving home. During the trip, and just south of Bethwood Avenue, the car lost control, spun counterclockwise and entered the northbound lane.

A Dodge Dakota collided into the passenger side of Courtney's car. Both girls died at the scene.

The family wants some changes to the road to make it safer, sparing other families from their heartache.

The 5-mile thoroughfare, built in 1974, has never undergone any significant road work, according to the Florida Department of Transportation, other than filling occasional pot holes or adding gravel next to the roadway, lessening sharp drop-offs.

That stretch has a documented history of accidents.

A Road Safety Audit performed by the FDOT between Jan. 1, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2012, revealed 155 crashes on the roadway. In that span, two people were killed and 51 were injured in car wrecks.

There were three pedestrian and three bicyclist crashes, which resulted in two additional deaths. From the conclusion of that study date to August 2013, three more people died in crashes on the road.

On Aug. 26, Mike Gilmore, Courtney's stepfather, was on his way home from work at Precise Nutrition & Fitness Center, the family's business, when he saw the aftermath of an accident in which a car lost control on the same portion of Moon Lake Road as Courtney's accident. Like Courtney's accident, it had been raining.

That driver was ejected from the car but survived.

More recently, a non-fatal, single-car accident took place on Oct. 22. It also was similar to Courtney's wreck on a rain-soaked road.

The car was traveling south on Moon Lake Road just past Bethwood Avenue when it lost control, crossed the northbound lane and went off the road.

It's the exact location of where Little's car hydroplaned. The car struck the PVC pipe in the shape of a cross that Courtney's father, Tim Little, erected on the grass shoulder to honor both girls.

The cross, more than 5 feet in height, has since been repaired and staked farther back in the same location.

The FDOT report cites roadway ruts throughout the corridor and states: “This rutting can allow rain water to pool on the roadway and also results in an uneven travel surface. Pooled water causes vehicle hydroplaning and an uneven travel surface may adversely affect the control which drivers have over their vehicles.”

A project to expand the two-lane road into a four-lane thoroughfare with a median was scheduled to begin in 2006. Homes sitting on the road's right of way had been purchased and cleared.

The plan has since been pushed back to 2026.

Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker said there are several reasons the project did not — and could not — go forward.

The economic downturn slowed the rate of growth in Pasco County, Baker said. Buying of existing homes slowed and new construction essentially stopped, she said.

“We started losing money in the capital improvement program because homes weren't paying impact fees, so we had to rebalance,” Baker said. “Every year we rebalance, but starting in 2007 on, we had to do some major rebalancing. So when you're revenue is cut, your expenses have to be cut.”

She said the defeat of a 5-cent gas tax hike this year shelved the project.

“We want the road fixed,” Mike Gilmore said. “We want it fixed for the future and 2026 is inexcusable. I hate to use the word angry, but we're getting pretty close after seeing all these excuses.”

Baker said there are several options being explored in the interim.

Larger signs bearing arrows alerting drivers to a curve in the road have replaced smaller signs. There were also “Brite Sticks” added to the sign posts, making the warnings more visible.

That took place nearly two weeks ago.

Additional curve warning signs with a speed limit may be added as well as solar powered warning flashers near the curve, Baker said.

There may also be the re-striping of a left turn lane from southbound Moon Lake Road to Bethwood Avenue.

Those fixes cost less than $10,000, Baker said.

More substantial additions to the road are possible, including pavement markers that cause car tires to vibrate when they are struck. Baker said there is also the potential of adding paved shoulders.

“Citizens trying to help other citizens is what community is all about, so I appreciate their involvement and their engagement with us in trying to make the road safer for all the traveling public,” Baker said. “The loss of a child, what can you say to somebody whose lost a child except for you're very sorry for their loss.

“I can't imagine the pain that the family is in. But what we're going to be focused on is what do you do going forward from here.”

A Nov. 12 workshop will be held by the county commission on road projects and how to fund them, including Moon Lake Road improvements.

“First of all, losing a child is not an easy thing,” Commissioner Pat Mulieri said. “Mr. Gilmore has been patient and he wants some answers and I think it's important this issue be addressed.”

Once the Florida Highway Patrol released Courtney's possessions to her parents, Christine Gilmore immediately searched Courtney's phone.

There were no text messages or phone calls from the phone while she was driving, she said.

Instead, the text messages she read were previous texts between Courtney and Kimberlee regarding studying and school.

Since the accident, the Gilmores moved out of the Hunter's Lake subdivision, which is just off Moon Lake Road and only 2 miles north of where Courtney and Kimberlee died.

Christine Gilmore said she read grief books, which urge against making drastic decisions soon after a death has occurred.

She fought the desire to move, but driving past the scene daily filled her with anxiety.

“It started a few days after the accident,” Christine Gilmore said. “About a half-mile away from the scene, I would start to have an anxiety attack. It was probably three or four weeks later I said I can't drive by here every day. All I see is the image of the accident and I can't get past it.”

At the end of September, the Gilmores moved to a new home.

Courtney's relatives are now left with memories that allow them to smile a bit.

Courtney was the middle child and most vocal of her four sisters. She once scored 1800 on her SAT and vowed to take it again to best that score.

A 3.5 GPA-student at River Ridge, she participated in the Spanish Honor Society, National Honor Society, Interact Club and Splash Club.

Friends have left letters at her grave site, thanking her for her ability to be kind to everyone.

“It saddens me because as an adult, I'm afraid to drive that road,” Christine Gilmore said. “More than anything, I don't know how I would live with myself if someone else died and I sat silent. … I just don't want my daughter's death or her friend's death to be in vain.”

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Twitter: @EDanielsTBO

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