Seven Injured in Tampa Bus Crash

The average commuter probably takes it for granted that a trip on a city bus is not dangerous. Buses are safe, highly visible, and heavy vehicles. Traffic laws have special protections for buses. And drivers are (hopefully) well-trained. But for seven HART bus riders in Tampa, a recent trip took a very bad turn.

On July 15, 2013, a HART bus collided with a Volvo sedan on 56th Street near Hillsborough Avenue outside the Netpark office park. Seven passengers were sent to area hospitals, as were both drivers.

A spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol said that the bus driver was cited for making an improper left turn. He turned in front of oncoming traffic, and the Volvo driver tried to swerve to avoid the crash, but could not. The collision sent the bus directly into the edge of a large concrete Netpark sign, which became wedged into the front of the bus.

Although the bus driver was apparently at fault in the collision, he had a strong safety record. Records show he received awards for safety from HART three years in a row. His only citation was in 2010, when he was a new employee, and he bumped into a parked bus inside a bus depot.

This goes to show that even safe drivers make mistakes. Everyone on the road needs to take the personal responsibility to drive carefully and defensively.

Both drivers and one passenger suffered serious injuries, but all were expected to make a full recovery.

Demand Shifts to Other Drugs, Other States Following Florida Pill Mill Crackdown

Florida’s crackdown on pill mills has reduced the number of narcotic-pushing clinics – that much is certain. But to a degree, the demand for the high of a painkiller has simply shifted – both in terms of the drugs sought and in geographical location.

Some parts of Florida have seen an increase in the use of heroin, a substance startlingly similar to oxycodone, the painkiller abuser’s typical drug of choice. Meanwhile, New Jersey seems to be in the position Florida was in just a few years ago, with law enforcement officials there reporting on the deliberate widespread improper prescription of painkillers.

According to the Tampa Tribune, sharp increases in the use of heroin have been reported in some Florida cities.

“[Oxycontin] is nothing but synthesized heroin,” Sgt. Rick Mills of the Tampa Police Department told the Tribune. Mills added that the medical examiner had told him drug-related deaths had fallen.

The article illustrates that anyone can become addicted to painkillers – not just the poor or disenfranchised.

“It’s everybody,” said Mark Detrio, a detective with the Tampa PD. “You see upper-class people, or college kids who didn’t put two-and-two together.”

Just as drug addicts are finding substitutes for oxycodone, those who would engage in the shady business of pill mills are finding states with lax laws now that Florida has cracked down.

Officials in New Jersey recently completed a two-year investigation into the state’s painkiller trade. Their 74-page report says painkillers and heroin have become prevalent in the state’s suburbs, with even affluent communities seeing a marked increase in drug trade.

In 2011, New Jersey had 1,008 drug-related deaths, an increase of more than 20 percent over 2010. Of those, oxycodone was involved in 337, and heroin was mixed with other drugs was involved in 368.

Acquitted of Murder, Zimmerman May Yet Face Wrongful Death Lawsuit

On July 13, 2013, after 16 hours of deliberation, the jury in the murder trial against George Zimmerman rendered their verdict: not guilty. That means Zimmerman will not go to prison for the February 26, 2012 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. But his legal troubles are not yet over.

As you may already know, an individual may be prosecuted in both criminal and civil proceedings when they are alleged to be responsible for the death of another. The civil side is called a wrongful death lawsuit. Perhaps the best-known example in the U.S. is that of O. J. Simpson. In 1995, Simpson was found not guilty of the murder of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. But in a subsequent wrongful death lawsuit brought by the parents of Nicole Simpson and Goldman, O. J. Simpson was ordered to pay a combined $46.1 million to the victims’ families.

Likewise, George Zimmerman is likely to face a wrongful death lawsuit. Zimmerman is not a target with great personal wealth like Simpson, and any large civil judgment against him may go mostly unpaid. But Trayvon Martin’s family may nevertheless decide to sue.

You may wonder how a civil lawsuit can succeed if prosecutors have already failed to prove a suspect’s guilt in a lengthy criminal trial. Civil suits are decided by entirely separate juries from their corresponding criminal trials, but more importantly, they are decided by different standards of proof. In criminal trials, juries must find a defendant guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” in order to convict. One small, but reasonable, doubt can negate a mountain of evidence. But in civil lawsuits, all that is typically necessary is a “preponderance of evidence,” meaning that it is more likely than not that the defendant is guilty. This is far easier to argue.

In fact, Martin’s parents have already filed and settled a wrongful death suit against the homeowners’ association that owns the gated community in which he was killed. As is usually the case in such settlements, the terms are confidential, and the association did not admit guilt in Martin’s death. However, Martin’s parents are said to have previously rejected a settlement offer of $1 million.

Zimmerman could also face federal civil rights charges. The NAACP is petitioning the Department of Justice to file those charges, alleging Zimmerman violated Martin’s civil rights. The DOJ has said they will examine the evidence to determine whether such a violation occurred.

Tips for Safe Driving in the Rain

The rainy season and hurricane season are upon us in Florida. When the roads are wet, auto accidents are far more likely. Problems from visibility to traction to traffic contribute to hazardous conditions. Many of the car accidents in the cases we handle occur on wet roads. Here are some tips to keep in mind to prevent accidents in the rain.

Most importantly, slow down. Your tires have less grip on wet roads, so it takes a longer distance to stop. Your visibility is reduced in rain, so you cannot see as far ahead as you would in clear weather. Always allow extra time to reach your destination when rain is in the area.

Increase your following distance. A following distance of three seconds is generally advised under good conditions, so increase that to at least four seconds.

If you reach a large puddle that could be very deep, take another route if at all possible. If you feel you must proceed, go very slowly and watch the depth out the side window. If the water reaches the bottom of the doors, stop and back up or you risk serious damage to your car.

If your windshield wiper blades are getting old, the beginning of the rainy season is an ideal time to replace them.

If your car begins to skid, steer into the skid – that is, steer in the direction you want to car to go. If your car has anti-lock brakes, brake firmly; if not, avoid braking until you recover from the skid.

An extra ounce of prevention will help keep yourself and those around you safe when Florida’s rain showers come.