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Sunday, May 27, 2018
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Moon Lake Road gets $2.2 million for safety fixes

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County commissioners revealed a plan to earmark $2.2 million for Moon Lake Road improvements during a budget workshop Tuesday morning.

That money will go toward adding shoulders to the entire stretch of the roughly 5-mile thoroughfare as well as signs warning of curves ahead.

During the public comment portion of the workshop, family members of two River Ridge High School students killed in a July car wreck on the road — Courtney Little and Kimberlee Markou — pleaded with commissioners to do something about the roadway.

“We know this road is dangerous; you have all the numbers and you can’t argue with that,” said Stacy Little, Courtney’s stepmother. “We lost our child. We feel like she didn’t have to die this way. Our lives are changed forever. Our children’s lives are changed forever. We feel like this didn’t have to happen, and we don’t want it to happen to anybody else. That’s all.”

On July 2, Courtney, 17, was driving her Chevrolet Aveo south on Moon Lake Road. The road was wet after a recent downpour. In the passenger seat was her friend Kimberlee Markou, 16. Just south of Bethwood Avenue, the car lost control, spun counterclockwise and entered the northbound lane.

A Dodge Dakota hit the passenger side of Courtney’s car. Both girls died at the scene.

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A Road Safety Audit the Florida Department of Transportation performed between Jan. 1, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2012, tallied 155 crashes on the roadway. In that time, car wrecks killed two people and injured 51.

The audit also recorded three pedestrian and three bicyclist crashes, which resulted in two additional deaths. From the conclusion of that study to August 2013, three more people died in crashes on the road.

The report pointed out ruts along the entire stretch of the road, which allows water to pool, a condition making it easier for drivers to hydroplane.

There are also significant drop-offs on the sides of the road that can force drivers to over-correct and steer into oncoming traffic.

A project to expand the road from two lanes to four with a median was scheduled to begin in 2006. Homes sitting on the road’s right of way were purchased and razed, but the plan was shelved until 2026 because funding isn’t available.

New, larger signs with arrows alerting drivers to a curve in the road have replaced smaller signs. Crews also added reflective strips to the signposts, making the warnings more visible.

Part of the $2.2 million revealed Tuesday will pay for additional curve warning signs with a speed limit, and solar-powered warning flashers near the curve, Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker said.

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Laura Markou, mother of Kimberlee and one of eight people who addressed commissioners, was passionate in her address to the group.

“I have so many friends of hers that travel that road during the time (FDOT) conducted the study that go back and forth to River Ridge High School,” she said. “Those kids travel in wet weather, in dry weather. All these kids with bright futures. Do you want to be here in another month from now with some more dead? I don’t. I can’t get my daughter back. God forbid you don’t do something and we have more young lives cut off.”

Outside the commission chamber, Bill Markou, Kimberlee’s father, questioned whether budget constraints were truly the reason the project was delayed.

“It’s almost like you have Moon Lake on this side; you don’t have a very affluent community, and it’s like, they’re kind of ignored,” he said. “That, in itself, is wrong.”

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Shortly after the girls’ deaths, Courtney’s father, Tim Little, erected a cross on the eastern portion of Moon Lake Road where their car came to rest.

“I stood there in the rain on the side of the road putting the cross in, watching cars blast through there,” he said. “… Cars blasted through the collected water there hard enough to get me wet on the other side of the road where I was putting the cross in.”

On Oct. 22, a single-car accident involving a Pasco Sheriff’s Office cruiser plowed over the cross.

“That was hard enough to do once,” Little said. “I had to go back and pick up the pieces and move it further off the road.”

Courtney’s mother, Christine Gilmore, and Gilmore’s husband, Mike, also addressed commissioners.

On Aug. 26, Mike Gilmore came upon a wreck on the same portion of the Moon Lake Road on his way home from work.

Justin Chichester, 22, was driving on the wet road when his car hydroplaned and slid into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

Chichester was ejected from the car and survived. His grandmother, Denise Houston, spoke of Chichester, who was in school to become a licensed roofing contractor.

“He has short-term memory loss from his brain injury,” Houston said. “He had bleeding on the brain. … I think he definitely had a guardian angel.

“I can’t even imagine losing a grandchild and being able to do this. My heart goes out to the Gilmore, Little, and Markou family.”

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Commissioner Kathryn Starkey left the commission board room to talk with the families. She said she understood their angst after her daughter was involved in an accident on Starkey Boulevard in 2011.

A year after that wreck, the commissioner said she was involved in a crash on Starkey Boulevard.

“I don’t know how I’m still standing here today,” Starkey told the families. “So I take what you say very seriously. I have driven on Moon Lake Road, and I have come upon fatalities, so we will do the best we can.”

As Starkey spoke to the families, she became emotional.

“I really do feel your pain as a parent and as someone who is in charge of all the roads in the county, this is not the only dangerous road,” she said. “We have a lot of dangerous roads. It really frustrates me that we don’t have the money to fix them all, but we will do the best we can.”

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