Auto Accident Kills Spring Hill Woman

An auto accident on a Sunday afternoon shortly before Christmas claimed the life of a Spring Hill woman.

Cecilia Diaz, 75, was killed when another driver ran a red light, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. She was turning left onto Mariner Boulevard from Landover Boulevard when police say Gregory Gerard Sanchez, 26, struck the left side of her Mitsubishi with his 2004 Ford Ranger.

The patrol said that Sanchez had been traveling northbound on Mariner and failed to stop at a red light.

Diaz was returning home following the afternoon service at St. Frances Cabrini Church. She died at the scene, and Diaz had slight injuries.

Authorities said the crash was still under investigation, but they do not believe alcohol was a factor.

According to police records, Sanchez, also a resident of Spring Hill, was charged in May with driving under the influence and arrested, but that charge were dropped in July. He is also named as a defendant in a civil suit in Hernando County for “auto negligence.”

Diaz, a native of Puerto Rico was deeply religious according to family members. She attended church weekly and had been planning her yearly Christmas Eve family dinner of traditional Puerto Rican dishes.

Diaz left Puerto Rico for Connecticut after graduating from high school and moved to Tampa in 1980. She was formerly employed as a teacher’s aide at Tampa’s Woodbridge Elementary School.

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Officials Recommend New Federal Safety Mandates for Cars

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended new federal mandates requiring auto makers to include modern crash-avoidance systems as standard equipment in all new cars. They say the systems have the potential to reduce by half the number of fatalities on American roads.

The safety systems include collision detection, adaptive cruise control, lane drift detection, and electronic stability control. Each of these safety features is available already on some new vehicles, but some are found only on high-end models.

Electronic stability control controls braking and throttle on a per-wheel basis in the event of a loss of traction. It is currently required on all new passenger vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds.

Lane drift detection systems monitor the vehicle’s position within its lane, warning the driver if the car begins to wander without signaling.

Forward collision detection, automatic braking, and adaptive cruise control all interact to autonomously control the vehicle’s speed. All require embedded sensors to detect the location of obstacles in the car’s path. Adaptive cruise control selectively applies a portion of the car’s available throttle or brakes to maintain a safe following distance. Collision detection alerts the driver when the vehicle is on a collision course. Automatic braking systems apply up to 100 percent of the car’s braking power in order to avoid a collision.

The NTSB also recommended mandates for tire-pressure monitoring systems and, for commercial trucks, speed-limiting systems.

Automakers warned of the effects such mandates would have on the cost of new cars, but safety advocates pointed out that economies of scale would likely reduce the per-vehicle cost.

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State Reports Show History of Abuse, Neglect at Florida Brain Injury Treatment Center

Staff members at a Florida institute for patients with brain injuries beat and mistreated patients, according to reports by state investigators. The reports were released to Bloomberg News by court order.

The Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehabilitation (FINR), home to brain-injured patients, is currently battling an order by state authorities to transfer some 50 patients to the care of other facilities. That directive was issued in the wake of a Bloomberg story documenting a history of allegations of abuse at the center in Wauchula, southeast of Tampa. Abuse or neglect is alleged in at least five patient deaths there since 1998.

The recently released reports document 15 investigations by the Florida Department of Children and Families in the past four years. Bloomberg petitioned a Leon County court to order the state to release the reports. In each case, investigators classified the allegations of abuse as “verified,” meaning a preponderance of evidence supported them.

Since 2005, a total of 526 complaints of neglect or abuse have been lodged against FINR, 37 of which were deemed verified, and 117 of which were deemed by investigators to be supported by credible evidence, but not a preponderance of evidence. In that same time period, NeuroRestorative, a company housing about half as many brain-injured patients in Florida as FINR, did not have a single verified allegation of abuse.

In one report, from August 2008, a state investigator confirmed 10 incidents of abusive treatment by FINR staff to three patients suffering from autism. In one of those incidents, an employee struck an autistic patient in the face, causing bleeding, while two other employees watched and did not intervene. The report alleges that staffers covered up the incident by blaming the injuries on another patient. The employee who struck the patient was later fired.

In another report, an employee allegedly punched a physically restrained patient in the head 10 times and dropped his knee on him. The patient was taken to the hospital with cuts and bruises. The staffer was charged with battery, pleaded no contest, and received a sentence of one year’s probation.

FINR is home to patients from around the nation and is one of the largest of its kind, and some patients pay as much as $300,000 for a year’s care. Its customers are often the recipients of large legal judgments or insurance payments.

In a statement to Bloomberg News, FINR owner and CEO Joe Brennick said the facility “has consistently acted in the best interest of its patients.” He added that “it is important to understand that FINR serves one of the most difficult populations of patients in the country, and that these patients often act out aggressively and are extremely difficult to manage.”

Robert Joyce is a Tampa brain injury attorney at Joyce & Reyes Law Firm. To learn more about the Tampa brain injury lawyer, visit or call 1.888.771.1529.