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Fortitude prevails after Lakewood Ranch tragedy

Side of Ranch: Jay Heater

The memorial at State Road 64 and Pope Road was moved to begin construction of a roundabout.
The memorial at State Road 64 and Pope Road was moved to begin construction of a roundabout.
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I sat down to write about fortitude.

Not the kind where Teddy Roosevelt charges up Kettle Hill to eventually receive the Medal of Honor, but the far less glorified variety, such as a mother deciding what is best for her children, especially when it flies in the face of public opinion.

We're reliving Groundhog Day during this COVID-19 pandemic, where we flip on the television each morning and are quickly run over with numbers that would intimidate a Princeton mathematician. Ten thousand positive tests, 50 deaths, spiraling graphs.

It makes you want to go back to bed and pull the covers up over your head.

Jay Heater: Side of Ranch
Jay Heater: Side of Ranch

That's where the courage comes in. We go forward. Mask or no mask? Workplace or home office? School on campus or not?

We face a lot of tough questions and our answers have consequences. The column idea seemed simple enough.

I sat down to write about fortitude.

Then I got sidetracked.

Instead of writing my column Monday evening, I needed to take a detour to snap a photo for another reporter's assignment. I lived right down the street so it made sense. I had written a few paragraphs for my column, but I paused to go the corner of Pope Road and State Road 64 to take a photo of Dan Powers and Scott Coyner, two fathers whose sons, Matt Powers and Chase Coyner, died in an accident at the site on Sept. 15, 2018.

The photo was to accompany our Page 3 story in this edition about three roundabouts being constructed by the Florida Department of Transportation, including one at that site. They will begin construction Aug. 3, but what they didn't want to do is remove the memorial items left on the corner to honor the two boys. They called the fathers and informed them about the construction. They told them it would be better if they removed the items.

Driving up to the site, an FDOT worker had his truck parked along the side of the road with flashing lights. A guy named Mike told me he was there to make sure the two men were safe as they packed away the memorial items.

I stood in silence, the cars whizzing past, as I thought about what was about to take place. A green cross bore the names of the two boys and the date of the accident. There were artificial flowers as the real ones had a hard time lasting in the location. A plastic butterfly sat atop a long, thin spike that stuck into the ground.

The area was neatly mowed, something tended to by Scott Coyner whenever it was needed. A few religious items sat on the ground near the crosses.

Then there was the sign. "Forever in our Hearts," with photos of both boys and their names. On the sign in script it read, "We love you, Chase & Matt."

I thought of the task in hand, picking up these items. I thought of my own son and wondered if I could even do it.

Dan Powers arrived first, carrying a cardboard box. He thanked me for coming.

Scott Coyner followed, again carrying boxes. They began to pack items, pausing to talk about the work done by Tommy Gregory, our District 73 representative, to have the traffic circle named the "Chase Coyner and Matthew Powers Memorial Roundabout." Senate Bill 78 was passed June 30 to have that section of state road named.

Gregory said it was a mutual effort by the Manatee County Commission, FDOT and state legislators to get it done. He didn't want to comment further, saying only, "It was the right thing to do."

I took the photos as the men continued their work. Two teen girls stopped, and fighting back tears, asked why these men were taking the memorial away. They explained they were the fathers and that construction was about to begin on a roundabout.

I doubt many days pass when the men don't get questions about the accident.

I asked how their families were doing.

"We have good days and bad days," Dan Powers said.

But they keep moving forward. They are the head of their families and they have to be strong.

They also have a message. We must make our roadways safer. If it means a roundabout, so be it. If it means that signal light that went into effect July 14 at White Eagle Boulevard and S.R. 70, that's good. When people see the FDOT sign in memory of their sons, they want the message to be about safer roads and safer driving practices.

I finished my work and said goodbye, climbing into my car. 

"Drive safe," Dan Powers said as I pulled away.

I returned home and looked at my laptop.

I sat down to write about fortitude.



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