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Longboat Key Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020 4 months ago

Report: Equipment on Gulf of Mexico Drive blocked view in crash that killed Baranciks

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Employees and residents had complained about visibility issues, report says.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

Sarasota Police have concluded that construction equipment on the side of Gulf of Mexico Drive likely blocked the view from the En Provence condominium entrance, playing a role in the Dec. 18 collision that killed philanthropists Charles and Margery Barancik and injured Longboat Key Police Department Officer Jeffrey Vogt.

The final report of the crash, released last week, said Barancik, 91, was at fault in the crash for violating the right-of-way, though it also notes that at least two residents – one of them Barancik himself -- and two employees complained to property management about the presence of equipment along the highway, blocking the view to the north. That equipment had been permitted by Florida Department of Transportation to work in the GMD right of way but was not part of the town's ongoing underground utilities project, Town Manager Tom Harmer told town commissioners recently. 

Work equipment was cited as an obstruction in the final report of the crash investigation.

The report also indicates Vogt's Ford Explorer patrol vehicle, equipped with a speed-plotting video camera, reached a top speed of 84 mph on Gulf of Mexico Drive just seconds before the crash at 5:57 p.m.

Libby Dayani, a friend and neighbor of the Baranciks at En Provence, said video from the property's guard house was shared with police showing the crash. That video is also referenced in Sarasota Police Officer Tim Bales' report.

"It can be seen that the driver was inching his way out, trying to see what was coming,'' she said at a Town Commission meeting. "Two emergency vehicles -- a fire truck and ambulance -- exited the south fire station almost directly across from our property with flashing lights and sirens. What the driver could not see was a police SUV that was approaching from the north. The parked equipment most likely also blocked the ability of the policeman to see a car emerging from our property.'' 

According to the report, a backhoe, water tank trailer and a piece of drilling equipment were parked in the grass just to the north of driveway of the En Provence, 2121 Gulf of Mexico Drive. A diagram of the crash scene shows the machinery between the sidewalk and roadway.

"Every driver leaving the property, did so at their own risk,'' Dayani said. "Several residents commented to staff that the parked equipment was putting lives at risk.'' 

Vogt, who was responding to a report of a fire alarm at the north tower of Longboat Club Towers, 603 Longboat Club Road, along with Longboat Key Fire-Rescue, told investigators his only recollection of the crash was the Baranciks' Tesla pulling in front him. Investigators concluded Vogt’s Ford Explorer, which was operating with emergency lights flashing but no siren, hit the Tesla at 55 mph in the driver’s side door, the car’s central pillar and the driver’s side rear door. 

According to the report, the video from the En Provence guardhouse shows the Baranciks' Tesla stopping at the intersection, activating its left turn signal and beginning to pull out for a left turn. An unknown vehicle heading north on Gulf of Mexico Drive, apparently slowing for Vogt's approaching southbound police vehicle, prompted the Baranciks' car to slow its left turn, in the path of Vogt. According to data retrieved from the Tesla, it was moving at 9 mph at impact.

Vogt applied brakes and tried to steer away from a collision, the report shows. Data from the police vehicle's airbag control module, which records certain parameters in a crash, indicated an impact speed of 55.4 mph and activation of the vehicle's anti-lock braking system, along with front airbag deployment. No skid marks were found.

Yellow ribbons mark the location of the area in which workers were operating along Gulf of Mexico Drive.

Mr. Barancik was pronounced dead at the scene. Mrs. Barancik, 83, was taken to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, with critical injuries and died the next day. Vogt was taken by ambulance to Sarasota Memorial Hospital with a leg injury, was treated and released.

In addition to the town's ongoing work along Gulf of Mexico Drive to bury power and other utility cables, other crews have been granted permission by the Florida Department of Transportation to operate in the two-lane highway's right of way. Last month,  Harmer, Police Chief Pete Cumming and other town leaders began examining what the town can accomplish on its own to improve safety, acknowledging the road is under state jurisdiction.

Among the first considerations: the possibility of some local controls over vehicles that are permitted by state agencies to park and work in Gulf of Mexico Drive's right of way and eliminating instances of vehicles improperly parking on the highway's center turn lanes, in adjacent cycling lanes or anywhere else sight lines might be obstructed. 

The town has also sought a safety review of the highway from the state and has begun working with county emergency-management officials on how non-emergency citizen reports of vehicles parked along Gulf of Mexico Drive can be relayed to police officers in the field fast enough to make a difference.

Both Harmer and Cumming noted Gulf of Mexico Drive, with a speed limit ranging from 35 mph to 45 mph, is something of an unusual thoroughfare, with its residential and commercial traffic, mixed with cyclists and pedestrians, newcomers, visitors and long-time permanent residents. Of late, the town's underground-utility contractors have been at work with heavy equipment along the road, as have other communications companies working on underground facilities of their own. TECO has been working along GMD under a state permit to replace natural gas lines. 

Harmer said Florida Department of Transportation officials were generally receptive to some kind of safety review, predicated by the out of character fatality rate since May 2018. In four crashes in that time, five people have died. Before the string began, the previous fatality on GMD took place in 2012. 

Sarasota Police have a memorandum of understanding with the Longboat Key police to investigate traffic fatalities on the island in lieu of the town maintaining such an investigative unit. 

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