In the dark, a life was lost
By JIM ROSS
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001
HOMOSASSA -- David Easter can't change what happened that night. But he can, and will, do his best to make sure it never happens to anyone else again.
One night in March, Easter was driving on U.S. 19 when he struck and killed a pedestrian. It was 10:45 p.m. and dark. The woman was crossing the highway between Jim's Club 19 and the Bell Villa Motel and Mobile Home Park.
Easter wasn't at fault. He wasn't drunk or high on drugs or speeding. He was doing everything right. Still, a life was lost.
A friend suggested Easter try to make something positive out of the tragedy. The answer: Try to get streetlights installed along that dark stretch of highway.
Would streetlights have helped that night? Perhaps. Will they prevent future tragedies? No one knows.
But Easter knows he needs to try.
Easter is circulating a petition that he will submit to whatever governmental agencies he must. He has gathered 500 signatures in seven weeks.
"I've been so impressed" with the number of people eager to support the cause, he said.
The petition notes that Jim's Club operates at night. People walk in and, hours later, walk out. The road is dark and drivers can't see the people. Sometimes, the results have been tragic.
Easter isn't the only person who has learned this fact. Twice before, in 1998 and then 2000, patrons leaving the bar have been struck and killed on U.S. 19, news accounts showed.
"I don't want to see a fourth victim," Easter said.
Neither do the people at Jim's Club, who strenuously argue that staffers watch out for people who have had too much to drink and call cabs or other rides when necessary.
The people killed have had little or nothing to drink at Jim's. That includes the woman Easter struck, who had just one drink at the bar.
"We're just real, real careful about it," owner Terry Ann Hunt said.
"I think it would be a very good idea," she said of the streetlights.
So, are streetlights a possibility?
Although U.S. 19 is a federal highway, the state Department of Transportation maintains it. That agency's spokeswoman, Marian Pscion, said Friday that her agency would have the final say on light installation, although county government would first have to agree to maintain the lights and pay the electricity bill.
Pscion said that stretch of highway is not currently slated for streetlights. But she notified her agency's traffic operations staff.
"They're going to go up there next week and take a look at the location," Pscion said.
After the accident, Easter stayed at the scene until 2:30 a.m. He voluntarily gave a blood sample, even though law officers said it wasn't necessary. Easter didn't want there to be any confusion.
But there was no confusion about the surroundings. Even then, when the shock of the accident was still so fresh, Easter noticed what was happening.
"It was very, very dark. I was surprised how many people were actually crossing" U.S. 19, he said.
He later learned that the bar patron, Patricia K. Rose, was 36 years old and had a daughter. Rose had not been living in this part of Florida for long.
In fact, that night, she was running from some people who were trying to help her in the bar parking lot. Hunter said Rose was not a regular. Some regulars were trying to help her when she ran.
Easter said someone in the parking lot flashed a bright spotlight, the kind police officers have on the sides of their patrol cars, apparently in an effort to warn motorists that Rose was in the road.
Easter is a nuclear maintenance specialist at Florida Power. He also is heavily involved in Playhouse 19, both as an actor and as a member of the board of directors. (People who wish to sign the petition can find it at Playhouse 19.)
The night of the accident, he was driving his 1994 Jeep home after having seen a play in Spring Hill. He and other Playhouse 19 folks had traveled to see their Hernando County counterparts perform.
Another member of his party, driving in a separate vehicle, saw Rose in the road. In fact, Easter's friend called 911 after seeing the pedestrian there.
"This could have happened to any" driver, Easter said.
But it wasn't just any driver. It was him. And now Easter is set to make this change.
"I'm very determined about this," he said.
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