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East County Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015 3 years ago

Q+A with Melissa Wandall

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by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

Whisper Bend resident Melissa Wandall is best known for helping to pass the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, which allows the use of red-light cameras. Wandall’s husband, Mark, died when a red-light runner collided with his vehicle in October 2003. Their daughter, Madisyn, was born about three weeks after the accident. In October, Madisyn, now 11, celebrated the release of her first book, “Marked Through Hearts.”
It has pictures of hearts in nature and other places, as well as the story behind finding hearts. Madisyn took 95% of the photos, Wandall said.

Currently, The Mark Wandall Foundation also is seeking volunteers to assist with a bereavement camp for children later this year. It hosted its first volunteer meeting Feb. 11.

Q: What did you do before Madisyn was born?
A: I was in hotel sales. I was in charge of 10 hotels — midrange properties…I was in charge of filling the rooms, just trying to bring tourism to the St. Pete/Clearwater area. I did a lot of sports teams and religious groups. It wasn’t a passion. It was a job.

Q: Why is the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act so important?
A: It’s not only curving the behavior of red-light runners, but now it goes much further. Three dollars per ticket goes to the Miami Project to cure paralysis, and because of the $3 per ticket, the FDA has approve clinical trials for cell transplants. That’s because of the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act. Ten dollars per ticket goes to the level one trauma centers in Florida.

Q: Why is your foundation bringing a bereavement camp to Florida this year?
A: My passion for this camp is so kids know they aren’t alone. They aren’t victimized but empowered. It was important when my daughter was born. People said, “Oh, that poor little girl, born without a father.” But, she wasn’t a victim. I know where these kids are because (my sister died when she was 12).

Q: What is your primary work now?
A: I’m basically a motivational speaker. And I’m now the president of the National Coalition for Safer Roads. I started that about two years ago. I love it because it’s not just about red-light safety cameras. It’s also about speed cameras and cameras on bus stop arms. You’d be amazed at the number of children’s lives taken because people aren’t stopping when the bus arm goes down. I’m an advocate, and I always will be. I think it’s very important to make people aware there are so many distractions. Nobody gets in their car and says, “I’m going to mindfully drive.” We have to have technology that reminds us to slow down. If we were, the statistics wouldn’t be there.

Q: What are things you refuse to do when you get in your car?
A: Texting. If my phone beeps, I don’t look at it to see who it is. I’m driving a loaded weapon. If I look at it for just a second, at any moment, I could miss somebody in front of me cutting me off, for example.
The main reason I’m doing this is so you can have one less person go through what my family did. And what about the other driver? I’m sure she’s thought about (Mark dying) her whole life. I can’t imagine how it can’t affect her.

Q: What else is important to you?
A: Spirituality is a huge part of our life. Putting this book out (Madisyn’s “Marked Through Hearts”), talks about how the story came about — to know our loved ones are always with us. There are signs they are with us and that’s really been a comfort.

Q: You speak about the importance of life insurance. How important was it for you?
A: The insurance allowed me to go up to Tallahassee for four years. It was paying for hotels, gas, food — those expenses — to get to and from Tallahassee and to travel around the state to talk about my cause. Also, at that time, I had to start a foundation. That stuff is not given to you. You have to pay people to draft (paperwork). I simultaneously advocated for the (Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act) and started the (Mark Wandall Foundation) and the Stop Light Running Coalition at the same time.

– Pam Eubanks

 

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