Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Story for the Oh.My.God. Category

See below for another article which appeared today, updating the previous one.


ST. PETERSBURG - A 94-year-old motorist struck and killed a pedestrian Wednesday evening, then drove about 3 miles with the body lodged in the windshield until he was stopped at a Sunshine Skyway tollbooth. The driver told officers he thought the body had fallen from the sky, said St. Petersburg police Officer Mike Jockers. "He had no idea he had been involved in an accident," Jockers said. "He doesn't totally understand what happened. "The crash occurred about 8:30 p.m., when the 52-year-old pedestrian attempted to cross 34th Street S from east to west near 46th Avenue S, witnesses told police.The pedestrian made it across two of the southbound lanes before he was hit by a 2002 Chevy Malibu, which was traveling about 45 mph, police said. The impact severed the pedestrian's lower right leg, which remained in the street. His head and arms went through the windshield, while the rest of his body flipped up onto the roof of the car, Jockers said. "The driver continued southbound, as the eyewitness said, like nothing happened," Jockers said. As the car approached the toll plaza, the toll taker thought it was a prank, until he saw the blood. When the driver stopped, the body fell into the car, Jockers said. A veteran traffic investigator, Jockers said it was one of the most gruesome scenes he has worked. Neither the name of the driver nor the name of the victim was released Wednesday. The victim had been living in a motel on 34th Street S. Friends said he had been trying to get to McDonald's for a bite to eat, Jockers said. The driver, who lives in Pinellas Park, told police that he was headed home. Pinellas Park, however, is miles in the opposite direction. "Obviously, he was confused," Jockers said. "Incredibly confused." The driver was taken to Bayfront Medical Center for evaluation. He will probably not face criminal charges, as he appeared unaware that he had been involved in an accident, Jockers said. Times staff writer Graham Brink contributed to this report. © Copyright 2002-2005, St. Petersburg Times

Here is the rest of the sad story.Driver in fatal accident suffered from dementia By ALEX LEARY, JAMIE THOMPSON and YUXING ZHENG Published October 21, 2005

St. PETERSBURG - Ralph Parker had shown signs of dementia before, but his condition worsened dramatically over the past week. Argumentative one minute, calm the next. Alarmed, Parker's son left Idaho on Wednesday to get his 93-year-old father in a safe place, police said. Before he could get here, his dad backed his gold Chevrolet Malibu out of the driveway and went for a drive.It ended horribly. Parker hit a man crossing 34th Street S, severing the man's right leg, then drove 3 miles with the body stuck in the windshield. When police asked Parker what happened, he said the body seemed to drop from the sky.Parker thought it was December and that he was headed home to Pinellas Park, not south toward the Sunshine Skyway bridge, police said. The case is an extreme example of a complicated and enduring issue in Florida and everywhere: When is someone too old to drive? Experts say there is no reliable test or quick answer. Unless something changes, they say, the problem will only get worse. ulia Zumpf was driving south on 34th Street about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday when she saw the gold Malibu unsteady in the road. Drunken driver, she thought. Then Zumpf, 44, saw a pedestrian step off the center median and head across the three-lane road."He didn't even walk straight across, he walked at a 45-degree angle toward the cars," Zumpf. "It reminded me of some cocky kid who walks in front of you."The driver of the Malibu slammed on his brakes, Zumpf said.She thought the driver missed him but suddenly she heard a crash and saw a leg flying in front of her blue Buick LeSabre."It went at least one story in the air," she said. His shoe then popped off before the limb came to a rest on a strip of grass west of the street, in front of Howard Johnson's. The driver kept going, as if not realizing what happened, Zumpf said. She drove several blocks, trying to locate the body, thinking it rolled off the car, and called 911."I thought it was just a hit-and-run," she said.The body was still on the Malibu. The head and shoulders were punched through the windshield, the torso slung backward over the hood. Three miles later, the car approached the Sunshine Skyway toll bridge. As Parker decelerated, the body slumped entirely inside, the man's face pushed up against the dash.The macabre scene looked like a Halloween prank to the toll taker. Then she saw the blood. Police had not released the name of the victim as of late Thursday. He was 52 and lived at the Crystal Inn across the street from the scene of the accident. The man, often seen begging for money on 54th Avenue S, was going to McDonald's for something to eat, police said. Residents at the hotel said his first name was Rudy. They said he was a hard drinker, but a decent man with long ties to St. Petersburg. The fractured windshield obscuring his view, and blood streaming down the console, Parker told police he did not realize what happened until he reached the tollbooth. Even then, he thought a body dropped from above, perhaps a pedestrian overpass, said St. Petersburg police Officer Michael Jockers. "He may have somewhere in his mind have realized it was a crash, but immediately forgot about it," Jockers said. Bruce Bartlett, chief assistant in the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, said it was unlikely the state would file charges. No final decision will be made until the police investigation is completed. To charge Parker with leaving the scene of a crash, prosecutors would have to prove he knew or should have known there was an accident. Additionally, he would have to be mentally competent to stand trial. Parker did not appear to know what happened, where he was or why he was there when he spoke with police officers, Bartlett said. Jockers took Parker's driver's license. Short of having the state take it away forever, Parker will have to take a test to show he is still competent behind the wheel. Parker hasn't been cited for any serious driving incidents during the past seven years, according to state records. His history is clean except for an expired tag. He last renewed his license in 2003, at the age of 91. It was set to expire in 2010.A spokesman for the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles said the agency would conduct its own inquiry into whether Parker should have had a license."We will investigate this vigorously to see how this could have been prevented, if at all," said spokesman Frank Penela. In recent years, experts have sounded warnings about the risks of elderly drivers and the need for more comprehensive screenings. A state report released last year said Florida was facing a "critical situation with its aging population: the mature at-risk driver."The issue has gotten more attention because older drivers are living longer, buoyed by better medical treatment. Last year, nearly 270,000 people age 85 or older were licensed to drive in Florida. Of those, at least 20 percent are considered "dementia drivers," with a mild to moderate condition, according to a 2004 state report. Yet Florida, like many states, has no comprehensive system for evaluating whether older residents should be on the road.The only age-related requirement is that seniors age 80 or older must pass a vision test when renewing their license, generally every six years.That went into effect Jan. 1, 2004, two months after Parker last renewed his license.But vision tests do not reveal other factors that affect driving, such as Alzheimer's disease, side effects from medication and chronic health problems.While Florida and other states say they would welcome more comprehensive screening, no reliable test exists."There's no foolproof way to predict someone's ability to drive safely," said Dennis McCarthy, co-director for the National Older Driver Research and Training Center at the University of Florida."Many seniors can and do drive well," said Susan Samson of the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas. Experts generally agree about the need for a road driving test. But even that is a snapshot in time that might not indicate whether a driver will forget to take his medication or lose mental alertness. Additionally, more comprehensive state testing would be expensive and time-consuming."If you've lived in Florida for a long time, you know we revolt when the lines at the DMV get too long," Samson said. State driver license examiners are trained to look for signs of mental or physical impairment and can request the driver to take additional tests. But mostly, the state relies on doctors, residents, family and neighbors to report potentially unsafe drivers. In those cases, the state conducts its own examination and a medical board determines whether to pull a license. Doctors can be crucial in determining a person's ability to drive. In Florida, reporting is voluntary. Other states require it. California, for example, demands that medical professionals report all patients who have disorders that can cause "lapses of consciousness," including Alzheimer's disease. A physician who fails to report a required condition can be held liable for damages.Pulling someone's license is serious business, especially for the elderly, experts say. Many older residents need a car to get groceries, fill prescriptions, continue social lives. Some drive when they shouldn't because they feel they have no choice - a lack of public transportation, for example. The loss of a driver's license can lead to a downward spiral, as people stop eating, taking their medications and become isolated. Giving up a license also comes with a psychological cost."Losing your ability to drive is one of the toughest things," McCarthy said. "It tells us we're not healthy, we're not young, we're not capable."Additionally, McCarthy points out that situations like Parker's don't happen often. Older drivers are involved in far fewer accidents than other drivers, such as teens."There's a tendency to sensationalize these types of incidents," he said. "Although this one sounds very tragic, they are very few and far between." Parker was taken to Bayfront Medical Center for evaluation. He suffered only minor scrapes from the accident, but his dementia was cause for concern, Jockers said."He can't even remember the name of the nurse that's been taking care of him all day," Jockers said. Parker's son, 66-year-old R. Thomas Parker Jr., spoke with police investigators on Thursday, relaying his father's recent bouts of dementia.The son could not be reached Thursday, and Jockers said he wished to be left alone. A daughter, who lives in Pennsylvania, declined to comment when reached by the St. Petersburg Times.Their father is a longtime resident of the Mainlands of Tamarac, a 55 and older community off U.S. 19 in Pinellas Park. Neighbors said Parker and his wife, Hazel, moved there in the late 1970s and were active members of the community, attending dances and bingo. When his wife died in June 1998, Parker withdrew. About the only time people saw him was when he would drive by.It seemed his one pleasure."That was the one thing he had," said Jockers, "to get in his car and just drive for the sheer enjoyment of driving."John Logan, who perhaps knew Parker best, said about six weeks ago he noticed newspapers piling up in Parker's driveway. He feared the worst but phoned his neighbor. To his relief, Parker answered."Oh, the newspapers. Yeah, I'll have to get them," Parker told Logan, the last conversation between the two men. "He kind of sloughed it off and said, "I've been doing other things.' "Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.© Copyright 2002-2005, St. Petersburg Times

32 comments:

FattyPants said...

Double omg. I freak out if a bird craps on my car I can't imagine driving around with a person on my windshield. Thanks for stopping by, nice blog I will be back :)

Erin said...

Amen! My grandfather used to drive all of the time. He had one blind eye and one that he only had 5% of his peripherial (sp?) vision in. Ugh.

srp said...

Yes, my dad is only 77 and I hold my breath every time he wants to drive alone. He can see well but his reflexes have really slowed. Right now, I do most if not all of the driving.

utenzi said...

That's a scary story Judy. It sounds like the pedestrian was crossing where he shouldn't have been--so he might have been hit regardless. But the old guy obviously was in another world. It's amazing to think that he might be back on the road again.

Of course just because they're not going to press criminal charges doesn't mean that they won't limit his license. I hope!

utenzi said...

oops. Michele sent me your way, Judy.

And while 6 months might be a bit freqent, some form of skills testing would be a good thing.

Paul said...

...and those younger drivers with their telephones and boom boxes and DVD players are better at it?

Gong ~ong ~ong.

rockjock said...

That made the news here in Texas as well .... sort of scary. But how did he get 3 miles down the road without being stopped?

Mr. Bee said...

Aren't you going counter to your own "motto" with that testing the elderly drivers every six months suggestion? ("You have no right to set up standards and ideals for other people, and you have no right to expect in others a perfection that is lacking in yourself") I'm not going to say you are wrong and attempt to correct you. You have a right to an opinion, as do we all. Our present licensing system could stand scrutiny and perhaps, up-dating. There is so much that is lacking in our laws with respect to driving and law enforcement, where does one begin to make changes? There are millions of people operating cars and trucks out there on our highways that have no business behind the wheel and it has little, if anything to do with their advanced age. It sounds like a perfect topic for me to rant about. Thanks.

Elle said...

"Obviously, he was confused, Jockers said"
That's quite an understatement.

I agree with re-testing drivers, but I don't know how you would go about putting an age limit on it. I actually think EVERYONE should be restested every 20 years or so.

kenju said...

Mr. Bee, I will be 65 nine days from now, so I am not so far from the elderly category either. You will note I said in my post "the VERY elderly", by which I meant everyone over 75. The motto on my site is a personal one, for me, and not for the government and it does not apply when the safety of the public is at risk.

I realize that there are many drivers on the road who have no business being there, and we all make silly and potentially deadly mistakes behind the wheel.

But the man in my story was not just silly - he drove down the road for 3 miles with a body on his car and he didn't even stop to see what happened. I suppose if he had not approached the toll booth, he would have continued on down the highway for miles. This is way beyond acceptable in a person who is allowed to drive a car, in my opinion. Better we should all be tested every six months or at least every year, than to take a chance that more things like this occur.

Yaeli said...

Wow! It doesn't surprise me that something like that has happened though. I used to do a lot of aged care nursing and unfortunately it does not take much to push the elderly into a confused mental state. Even something as simple as a urinary tract infection can be enough to alter an elderly person's functioning.

Yes, elderly people should have regular driving tests (here in Australia it is once a year after 80), but sometimes these situations sneak up on us. Obviously prevention is ideal, but sometimes things are unpreventable.

Michele sent me.

Bec of the Ladies Lounge said...

Hi Judy,
Michele sent me this time. Mr Bee could maybe consider keeping his sting to himself. Don't bees die after they've done that? The sting-thing, I mean!
Forget every six months, how about daily? I'm thinking there's a geek out there quite capable of building a steering wheel 'test-yourself' panel, wirelessly connected to the local roads authority, that locks the engine until some basic knowledge and sight tests have been completed... (and I write as the granddaughter of an 89 year old who lied on every test she ever took!)

Suburban Turmoil said...

I could totally see my grandfather doing this about ten years ago. He drove from Florida to Georgia to visit us every year, even when he was 86. The last time he came, his side mirror was ripped off and he was driving on a rim. My dad went out and asked him what had happened and he had no clue!!!

I had many arguments with my dad over taking Grandpa's keys away, but Dad said taking a man's keys away is like taking his independence, or something ridiculous like that. But I always worried Grandpa was going to kill someone accidentally.

Luckily, no one ever injured (that we know of!)-- You'd better believe that I'll take my dad's keys away when the time comes and I don't care how angry he is about it.

Suburban Turmoil said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
rugdesigner said...

This is so scary. My great uncle still drives occassionally (at 95) and it unnerves us to no end.

David Parsons WV said...

The elderly man who hit the pedestrian had his driver's license pulled permanently. His son in Idaho is on his way down to put his father in an appropiate facility. The man's wife died in 1998 and his only pleasure was driving. He was driving south to his home which is actually about 15 miles NORTH. The guy who was hit was described by eye witnesses as crossing the highway like a defiant teenager causing others to brake. He was a known alcoholic and lived in a cheap motel near the accident. His right leg was severed completely and flew at least twelve feet in the air from the impact. In all it a tragic story for all involved.

Laura said...

I live in the same county where this happened. The man lived in Pinellas Park, which was a few miles from where the accident occured. Probably far less than 5 miles, actually.

The old man's neighbors said on the local TV news that he often got in his car to "go for a drive".
He had severe signs of dementia.

As for the guy who was hit, in that part of town, it is common to see these types of characters crossing the street in that manner. you have to watch it when you're driving through many of those roads, especially along alt 19 as you get closer to the Skyway bridge where he was stopped.

We have come across both men and women who don't use the crosswalks at all. Some of them just stare at you as they cross the street, defying you to hit them, or not caring if you do. So we have to watch it in this part of town.
It's a major throughfare through St Petersburg.

And yes, it is a tragic story overall.

kenju said...

Sorry to post such a long update, but I thought it was worthwhile to read it all.

Finn said...

Here's the thing: The old folks vote. As long as they keep doing that, they won't institute a policy that may keep some older drivers off the road.

And as for this being a fairly isolated incident, that's crap. That it doesn't get this bad more often is a miracle. I don't know how many times I've heard about some older driver backing over his/her spouse or hitting the gas instead of the brake and flying into a pool or the window of a 7-11. And then there are the things you don't hear about: lane drifting, coming to a dead stop in the middle of the road because they suddenly realized they passed their turn and now don't know what to do, not being able to see over the dashboard anymore... I could go on, but you get the idea.

Oh, and Michele sent me today.

rashbre said...

Terrible sad story. We have retests in the UK after a certain age, including basics like eyesight and fitness.

Cars are also weapons.

rashbre

rashbre said...

oops meant to say Hello, Michele sent me today!

flu said...

Really, that is incredibly sad, but I can't seem to get over the absurdity of the story.

Hey, kenju, is that you in the robe in the last post there? nice smile.

uh, about that pic in my blog there... that clown is doing what all clowns do - scaring the bejebus outta me.

and Hi, Michele sent me

Jennifer said...

I've had two grandparents have to give up their cars after becoming dangerous on the road. It's so ad having to take their last vestiges of independence away from them, but the responsible thing to do, I'm afraid :(
Michele sent me. I'll definitey come back :)

brendalove@gmail.com said...

As I have stated before at various times....I really don't want to live TOO long....ya know?

Angie said...

I see alot of women who should not be driving. It is terrifying. Some older people don't even care if they have a license. :-/

Jamie Dawn said...

What a terrible story. That man obviously should not have been driving. I'm all for re-testing on a regualr basis to be assured that drivers are competent.

poopie said...

One more reason to require re-testing...Amen, JD. My grandma drove until she ended up in a ditch beside my house. Sideways, and upside down. I think the reason it doesn't happen sooner, is that nobody wants to deal with carting the elders around. Which is even sadder.

Kim said...

I think Poopie hit it on the head. We don't treat out elderly well in this country; we just want to put them away somewhere. I hope someone cares enough to discuss my driving when I'm over 80 - and I would not mind doing a test of driving AND orientation at that age.

The problem is, the elderly (and I'm talking over 80) can go from oriented one minute to disoriented the next day due to an undiagnosed infection (for example). The ones that fight having to be tested are the ones who are probably most worried about their license.

This is such a sad, sad story for the driver AND the absolute idiot who thought he could cross a street with that 'tude that people seem to have nowadays. If the old guy had not have hit him, someone else would have, I'm sure. I'm not blaming the victim, I'm stating that by crossing like he did he bears a bit of responsibility.

Kim said...

BTW: you asked a question on my blog that I couldn't answer because I thought it gave to much away about the situation. To answer: stabbing....LOL! You can email me if this makes no sense a week later! : D

OldHorsetailSnake said...

Aliens drop out of the sky in Area 51 all the time. I've only seen 2, but I think there are lots more.

Carmi said...

Hi Judy. I hope the thunderstorms don't keep you down for too long. We'll miss your voice if they do.

This story will no doubt reignite the debate over elderly drivers. This is frightening in and of itself, and because it's a more common occurrence than we'd like to believe.

Even one is too many.

Makes me wish more people would proactively turn their licenses in before they are too far gone. How sad.

Guess what: I came on my own tonight. Yay!

Michelle said...

Wow! I get nervous sometimes because they seem to cross into my lane at times and never even notice I am there. Here via Michele tonight. Have a great weekend!