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Missing stop sign blamed in fatal crash

A 72-year-old man was killed Wednesday in a Hernando County accident as he drove his wife to work at her part-time job.


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2001

SPRING HILL -- It was a habit for Frederick Smith.

He woke up Wednesday morning and, as usual, started driving his wife, Doris, to work at her part-time job at the Home Depot in Spring Hill.

But their Valentine's Day morning commute ended tragically when they crossed Northcliffe Boulevard on Freeport Drive.

A car driven by 44-year-old Michael J. Muoio struck the Smiths' 1997 Buick.

Smith, 72, died at the scene of the accident, according to Hernando County sheriff's officials. His wife, 67, was treated and released from Oak Hill Hospital. Muoio was taken to Spring Hill Regional Hospital and treated for minor injuries.

Officials blame the accident on a missing stop sign at the intersection's northwest corner. Neighbors say the sign came down sometime the night before.

Married to her husband for 49 years, Doris Smith, 67, did not want to comment just hours after the accident. Her longtime friend, Elenore Brass, said she was holding up as well as could be expected.

"She doesn't really remember anything," Brass said. "All she remembers is seeing the lights, and then it was all over."

Gale Rundell was reading the morning newspaper and drinking coffee at home when she heard the accident. She called 911 and was the first person at the accident scene.

"It's the third accident there in less than a week," said Rundell, who has lived on the corner of Northcliffe Boulevard and Freeport Drive with her husband since October. "It's ridiculous."

Even as police were working on the accident scene during the morning rush to work, she said that drivers drove around with little or no concern.

"I don't know what they could do exactly," said Rundell's husband, Bob. "This intersection doesn't really warrant a flashing yellow light. They could patrol more, I suppose, but they can't be everywhere."

Doreen Smith, who lives on the busy Freeport Drive, said traffic to the nearby Fox Chapel Middle School has gotten worse in the seven years she has lived there.

Most drivers, she said, use the street as a shortcut to avoid the construction on part of U.S. 19.

"Occasionally, they have traffic stops out on that road, but it doesn't help," she said. "They could fund the whole county budget on this one street."

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