Throughout the holiday week, YourObserver.com will be counting down the top 12 stories of 2010 (one from each month) from our Longboat, East County and Sarasota Observers. Check back each day for a reprinting — and any relevant updates — of the biggest news items of the year.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED MAY 20, 2010.
LAKEWOOD RANCH — After the death of her husband Mark, East County resident Melissa Wandall wasn’t sure how she would find her voice.
But after five years sharing her story, learning the legislative process and lobbying for change, she’s being heard statewide.
On May 18, Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, a statewide measure to allow the use of cameras to capture the license plate number of drivers who run through red lights.
During a press conference at the Manatee Chamber of Commerce’s Lakewood Ranch facility, Crist thanked Wandall and others for their efforts, courage and commitment.
“It’s because of the courage of ordinary citizens (that get things done),” Crist said. “Melissa, you are not ordinary. Thank you and God bless you for what you’ve done. It’s not easy to get things done in Tallahassee, as we all know, but it happens.”
The Wandalls’ daughter, Madison, proudly displayed a photograph of her father — a man she never met. He died at the intersection of Tara Boulevard and State Road 70 just two weeks before her birth. A woman’s decision to run a red light took his life, and injured his brother-in-law, Philip Wolfe, as well.
“This is not a story I would have chosen for our lives, but this is the life we were given,” Melissa Wandall said. “We have chosen to make a reason for it to happen.”
“Gov. Crist: My husband may have lost his life, but today you’ve given Bradenton and the state of Florida life again.”
Through The Mark Wandall Foundation, Wandall said she will continue working to educate the public about the danger of running red lights and toward the common goal of making sure loved ones come home at the end of the day.
“This is our life passion,” she said.
Rep. Ron Reagan, the bill’s main proponent, took up the cause five years ago in hopes of finding a way to deter habitual traffic offenders. Since then, he and others have been helping Wandall wade through the legislative process, educating legislators and working to see the bill into existence.
“This bill will No. 1 save lives and No. 2, it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Although critics of the bill suggest video-recording license plate numbers is too reminiscent of “Big Brother” government, Reagan said he is confident the change will not violate his constituents’ right to privacy.
“If you are in a vehicle on a public highway, there is no expectation of privacy,” he said. “Cameras are used everywhere.”
Under the new legislation, violators would receive a fine. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund and the Department of Health Administrative Trust Fund to support trauma centers.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
Melissa Wandall continues to raise money through The Mark Wandall Foundation.
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