When a tragedy occurs, especially one as horrible as the death of 53-year-old Siesta resident Donna Chen, people’s natural response is to second-guess actions and look for ways to prevent a recurrence.
We all find ourselves thinking, “If only …” But no matter how many different scenarios we conjure, we have to face the truth that nothing will be able to undo what has transpired.
People who live, work and generally spend a lot of time on the Key readily acknowledge that Siesta is paradise. I can’t begin to count the times I have heard that word used when I have asked people what made them decide to call Siesta home, or why they chose Siesta as the place to open their business. With its laid-back aura and picture-postcard natural beauty, the Key is difficult to imagine in any context but a positive one.
The fact that the island has so little crime simply underscores its desirability as the place to be. A couple of years ago, when talk arose that crime was mounting, Sheriff Tom Knight came to a Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce meeting to present statistics showing just how safe the Key is.
But it wasn’t a safe place for Donna Chen the afternoon of Jan. 7.
Everyone who drives that stretch of Midnight Pass Road regularly is familiar with the runners, bikers and walkers. With plenty of foliage shading the sidewalk, that area presents itself as a pastoral place for exercise.
And that is all the more reason, I suspect, Chen’s death has hit so many people so hard. Since Jan. 7, they have found themselves thinking time and again that it could have been they instead of her.
When I lived on the Key for 14 months, I regularly walked to the public beach. I knew drivers didn’t always look where they were going, and sometimes they were driving recklessly, but I frankly never feared someone would swerve drunkenly off one of the narrow roads and kill me.
Talk already has sprung up that the Florida Department of Transportation should lower the speed limit on Midnight Pass Road between the Beach Road and Higel Avenue intersections. County Commissioner Nora Patterson, who lives on the Key, brought that up last week during a regular board meeting.
However, Patterson said, “It’s pretty clear what happened (Jan. 7) didn’t have any relation to speed limits.”
Still, Patterson said, that curve where the accident occurred “isn’t very well banked and should have a lower speed limit,” adding that the area is all residential along that part of Midnight Pass Road, “and people do go really fast there.”
Chairwoman Christine Robinson said she travels that road practically every day herself. A flashing sign does warn northbound traffic about the curve, she added. And while she said she was skeptical that lowering the speed limit would help prevent future tragedies, she was willing to go along with Patterson’s motion to ask the county’s Public Works Department staff to confer with FDOT about possibly lowering the speed limit in the area between St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church and the Beach Road intersection.
The motion passed unanimously.
In the meantime, people have continued to second-guess actions of the Sarasota County deputies who encountered the alleged drunk driver and his two friends about an hour before Chen’s death. David J. Brewer, 24, the passenger in the car that struck Chen, recognized one of the deputies and called him by name during the first encounter, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Brewer reminded the deputy he had arrested Brewer recently for having an open container on North Shell Beach Road; records show Brewer spent 24 days in jail in connection with that incident.
Yet, as the Sheriff’s Office also has pointed out, the deputies found no outstanding warrants for any of the three young men. And every subsequent time they encountered Brewer and the driver of the vehicle in the Chen incident, Blake Talman, they saw the pair heading in any direction but the parking lot.
As Sheriff Knight put it in a statement last week, “We cannot change human behavior.”
As much as we wish we could, he’s right.
What we can do is think about how our own behavior and how it will affect others. In the end, each of us is responsible for what we do.