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<span>Florida's Little Secret: </span> Government Vehicles Running Over Sunbathers

Florida's Little Secret: Government Vehicles Running Over Sunbathers

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phillips, hunt & walker Coastline Tourism

According to the State’s official statistics, Florida has 1,197 miles of Coastline and 663 miles of Beaches. Tourism is the biggest business in Florida with nearly 100 million visitors annually according to State estimates, making Florida one of the top travel destination in the world. The tourism industry has an economic impact of over $80 billion annually on Florida’s economy and employs about 1 million people across the State.

But there is a problem- a big problem. Florida also leads worldwide in another unfortunate statistic- injuries and deaths by automobile on beaches. It seems many states have learned from prior lessons- not Florida. People flock to relax on the beaches of Florida. Jimmy Buffett and Kenny Chesney have written many songs glorifying that spot of sand that relaxes us and that sound of the ocean that soothes. But, there are hazards that they do not sing about- the mixture of automobile traffic among the sunbathing masses.

There are two types of beach driving- beach driving by the general public and beach driving by official vehicles. We are not referring to beach driving by the public in those few places where it is allowed. Most troubling is the repeated incidents in which lifeguards, beach patrol, police and other government safety officers run over sunbathers.

Over 20 sunbathers have been run over on Florida beaches in recent years. Our firm represents three women run over by beach patrol- one in 2011 in Daytona, another in 2012 in Fort Lauderdale and now one in Atlantic Beach 2016.

Each municipality or county seems to be acting alone. They are neither learning from each other in Florida, nor from other states. Miami actually changed its policies after a 3rd incident in 2003. Here is a brief account of all of the lifeguard vs. tourist run-overs we could find.


  •  ♦ In November 1993, a Peruvian tourist, Sylvia Garcia, age 28, was run over by beach patrol in Miami while sunbathing. She was lying on her stomach. The Lieutenant drove a Dodge Ranger “up her torso and over part of her head.” Garcia suffered broken ribs, a broken clavicle and external head injuries. “I was just surprised,” Garcia said from her hospital bed, “With the pain, I couldn’t say anything – just scream.” She on a seven day visit from Lima, Peru. A representative of the city visited her in the hospital and told her not to worry about medical costs.
  •  ♦ In April of 1999, a Miami lifeguard made a sharp right turn and ran over a pregnant woman with both left tires. Lupe Eyde-Tucker, a 27-year-old schoolteacher, and her unborn child survived, despite Eyde-Tucker’s suffering a crushed pelvis, broken ribs and head injuries.
  •  ♦ 27-year-old, Stephanie Tunc, were sunbathing on a crowded oceanfront Miami beach Feb. 22, 2003, when a Miami police SUV ran them over. He started off on the hard packed sand, more often used by police vehicles. The officer eventually turned southeast onto the softer sand and headed towards a lifeguard tower, rolling over the two French tourists and pinning one of them under the SUV when he stopped. In 2003, Stephanie was quoted as saying, “For the memory of my sister, I want to see all the police trucks banned from beaches in Florida. Too many people have been injured. Too many people have died. And too many people have suffered. This must never happen again.” After the accident, Miami adopted policies, including using bicycles or all-terrain vehicles for routine patrols, using flashing overhead lights when police cars must be on the beach, keeping cars, trucks and SUVs off the soft sand when hard sand is available, and limiting speeds to 15 mph. City Manager Jorge M. Gonzalez said, “Those are key elements that are made more clear now so that if there is a legitimate business purpose for a vehicle being on the beach. We’re making it as safe as possible.” Miami has largely been problem-free from a beach patrol operation standpoint since learning from this death.
  • Denise Moure, 28 of Miami Beach, were recuperating on November 7, 2011, at Mount Sinai Medical Center. The nature of their injuries was not released. They were lying on the beach Sunday afternoon when they were struck by a Ford-F150 driven by a worker for beach vendor. The accident happened as the vendor was closing up the beach cabanas and collecting chairs and umbrellas about 4:13 p.m., according to the vendor and city officials. The driver of the truck, Jorge Monje of Miami, struck two people who were laying on the sand at Seventh Street, police said.
  •  ♦ A south Florida man was run over on Dec. 18, 2012 by a lifeguard in a truck on Hollywood Beach. 36-year-old Timothy Clingman was lying on a sand dune around the 60th block of Ocean Drive, when 63-year-old Vincent Canosa, a beach safety chief drove up over the dune and over Clingman, according to Hollywood Police. Police said Canosa kept on going after he drove over Clingman because he was unaware of what had happened until lifeguards on the beach flagged him down. Clingman’s injuries were said to be minor including burns from the trucks exhaust pipe and some cuts and scratches.  Yet he’s still hospitalized at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood.
  • Lupe Eyde-Tucker, 27, was run over by a lifeguard’s (Steven Krowitz) SUV or Ford Bronco and suffered a crushed pelvis, broken ribs and head injuries after being hit by a city beach patrol officer driving a Ford Bronco. She was 8-months pregnant at the time and the baby was born unharmed. He was making a “sharp right turn while pulling away from a lifeguard stand.”


  •  ♦ On September 3, 2003, Volusia County Beach Patrol truck ran over Vennetta Mkzechyan, age 50. She was not hit by the tires but was burned by the undercarriage. John Anderson of the Beach Patrol was cited for reckless driving. He did not see the woman when he parked on the beach, while pulling up to a concession stand.
  •  ♦ On July 31, 2005, Kristina Miles, age 25, was also run over by lifeguards. “I couldn’t scream and I couldn’t cry because I was in shock, ” Miles said. A Dodge Dakota driven by veteran beach Patrol Officer Rob Horster rolled over a portion of her body as she lay face down on her blue, plastic chaise lounge. She sustained cuts and bruises on her arm and side. The officer, who had been with the Beach Patrol since 1974 and was promoted to supervisor in 1995, had left the traffic lanes on the sand and stopped his truck to speak to another officer, who was also in his own vehicle. His supervisor said accidents involving the Beach Patrol are infrequent. “I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often, ” Petersohn said. “It could happen to anyone of us really.”
  •  ♦ Haleigh Howerton was dozing in the Daytona Beach sun, enjoying a vacation with her fiance before he shipped off to Iraq. Suddenly, she felt pressure on her left side. She then watched in horror as a pickup truck rolled across her body, tearing her pancreas and spleen and causing her lung to collapse. His attention was on swimmers dangerously close to a rip current when he ran her over and pushed her into the soft sand on July 3, 2006. “I opened my eyes and I noticed there was a big Dodge truck over me,” she recalled of the incident, which left her with lifelong injuries. Immediately after Howerton was run over, she recalls, she jumped to her feet and felt intense pains in her stomach and back. A crowd of beachgoers surrounded her. Her fiance, now her husband, saw the crowd and ran to shore. Haleigh Howerton spent the next two weeks at Halifax Hospital. She then went home to Washington, where she visited doctors several times a week for months. Once an active runner and fan of outdoor sports, Howerton said she still gets pain in her back and can no longer run half marathons or lift heavy objects. Due to her pancreas injuries, doctors have told her she has a greater chance of developing diabetes later in life. She had more than $57,000 in medical bills while she was in Daytona Beach, but she said the $100,000 settlement may not be enough to cover any future complications.
  •  ♦ On July 4, 2006, a Volusia County beach patrol officer drove a pickup truck diagonally across Danielle Taylor‘s body as she sunbathed with her eyes closed. The 20-year-old was a student on vacation from Fort Stewart, Georgia. “Two of the tires rolled over her shoulder and her hip,” said the FHP spokeswoman, “She started screaming and rolled over, and that’s when he saw her.” The victim received extensive injuries to her pancreas and spleen and a collapsed lung. For the next two weeks, she was in the Halifax Hospital and then had multiple visits to her physician when she returned home. She settled her claim for statutory limits of $100,000.
  •  ♦ On June 8, 2010, Patrol Officer John Scott Dowling was making a right turn when he ran over sunbather, Carole Dalton, 52, who was sitting in a beach chair on Daytona Beach. She suffered a broken shin bone, or tibia, which was trapped under the truck. She required surgery. “Due to the blind spot” on his 2010 Ford pickup, he couldn’t see Dalton. “I just closed my eyes for a few moments, and the next thing I knew, that truck was coming on top of me,” said Dalton, a local who had visited the beach for a brief swim and some sun before heading to work that afternoon. “I was screaming and crying. It was scary, something that I don’t wish on anybody.” The pickup’s right-front wheel turned on her chest and rolled onto her right cheekbone, with the weight of the truck pushing her into the sand and leaving her bruised.
  •  ♦ In May 13, 2011, Kelly McNichols was a student at the University of Dayton, visiting Volusia as a part of a “Dayton to Daytona” Spring Break campaign, when Officer Russell St. John was made a U-turn with his beach vehicle and ran over her arm, which was not in a travel lane. She was treated and released and accepted a settlement for medical costs. She later admitted “settling too soon.”
  •  ♦ On July 31, 2011, Erin Joynt, a tourist from Kansas drove over 20 hours to spend some time on Daytona’s famous beach. Erin was sunbathing when a truck performed an improper U-turn and ran over her head and torso. She suffered hearing loss, sight impairment, facial fractures, broken ribs and a host of other injuries. Mrs. Joynt’s 8-year-old and 5-year-old were coming out of the water when it happened. Her 8-year-old daughter saw the incident and turned the smaller one around. Mrs. Joynt was the most traumatically injured. The vehicles still patrol Volusia beaches, despite plans to remove them that have existed for some time. Since 2007, more than 50 people have been struck or killed in beach-driving accidents by lifeguards and non-lifeguards alike.

Volusia should be more than ashamed and have made sure these incidents stopped at all cost. They have not. Volusia makes substantial revenue off of beach driving. Here are toll revenues for Volusia County alone- 2008: $1,351,703; 2009: $1,826,657; 2010: $1,893,257 and increasing. So, Volusia County makes over a $1.5 million dollars a year allowing cars on beaches and would have to build parking lots if it changed its policy at a cost to taxpayers- cost versus benefit. A few tourists get hurt, but it brings in millions and there is little to no liability, so why do anything?


  •  ♦ A Jacksonville Beach police officer patrolling the shoreline in a sport utility vehicle ran over a woman lying on the beach during a U-turn. Anne Marie Giffin, 41, of Jacksonville was taken to Shands Jacksonville hospital where she was listed in critical condition, including a head wound and broken bones in her chest and pelvis.
  •  ♦ And Jade Shaw were run over by an Atlantic Beach city vehicle on the beach Saturday morning May 7, 2016. One had burns so severe she was transferred to the burn unit of UF Health Shands, in Gainesville. Bella had her ankle run over by a tire. Timothy Thompson, a park ranger for Atlantic Beach, said he got in his pickup truck and made a U-turn on Seminole Road, then he heard screaming. Residents ran over and pulled the two girls out from under his pickup.

Watch their story here:



  •  ♦ In 1985, a city work crew was doing bulldozer work and ran over and killed a sunbather, Daniel Sullivan.


  •  ♦ In 2013 turned disastrous for one Panama City Beach family. A mother and her son were sunbathing on the beach behind Regency Tower, when she watched a truck run over her son’s body. “It was pretty much a dream,” Lisa Gartner said. “You’re hearing a roar, and next thing you look over and you’re seeing an actual car or truck run over your child. You know, it was panic. It was chaos. I didn’t know what to do. I just started screaming.” That nightmare became Lisa’s reality as she watched a truck run over her son Gunnar while they were sun bathing on the beach in March 2013. According to the Florida Highway Patrol incident report, the person driving the truck worked with a company that operates on the beach. The driver received a citation for careless driving. Gunnar went through physical therapy after the accident. While the bruises have healed, he says the memory left emotional scars.
  •  ♦ A sleeping sunbather was seriously injured after being run over by a cop car on a Florida beach. Jessica Nystrom, 21, was left with tire marks across her body after an officer accidentally drove the truck over her shoulder on Miramar Beach, near Panama City, at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Deputy Chad Biernacki, 30, had just ticketed a group of underage drinkers when — driving off — he felt a “slight bump” and heard a woman curse. Getting out of the truck he saw two women, one of whom, Nystrom, had a tire mark across her right shoulder. Nystrom, of Destin, was taken to Sacred Heart Hospital. She was released late Wednesday.
  •  ♦ A teenager was run over by a Panama City Beach code enforcement truck in April of 2016, while the driver was pursuing a runaway dog on the beach, according to Panama City Beach Police Department reports. The 18-year-old, who did not want to be identified, suffered a broken hand and an abrasion on his knee in the incident, he said. According to PCBPD reports, code enforcement officer James Tindel, 40, was responding at about 4:15 p.m. Monday to a call of a runaway dog on the beach near the Russell-Fields Pier, 16201 Front Beach Dr. Tindel told the officers he was following the dog in his truck when the dog doubled back on him. As he attempted to turn around, he ran over the teenager who was lying on the sand, PCBPD reported.


  •  ♦ In Ft. Lauderdale this on April 10, 2012, our client, Rinda Mizelle of Charlotte, N.C., was sunbathing on the beach Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale when she felt the Fort Lauderdale Ocean Rescue truck rolling across her body. She was burned and scraped and has still undetermined orthopedic and neurological injuries.

ATVs on Beach

Although not as dangerous as trucks, there have been similar issues and injuries with ATV’s:

  •  ♦ Kitzie Nicanor, 28, from Seattle, Wash., (described below) and
  •  ♦ Luis Almonte, 29, from North Miami, were seriously injured when run-over on the beach by an ATV. Derick Kuilan, a now ex-Miami Beach cop, took an ATV joyride while on duty, in uniform and accompanied by a young woman — became a major embarrassment for a police department that has been marred by controversial shootings and officer misconduct in recent years. A toxicology report showed, his blood-alcohol content was .088, just over the legal limit. Kitzie Nicanor, 28, from Seattle, Wash., and Luis Almonte, 29, from North Miami, were seriously injured in the crash, police said. Luis Almonte was left with a fractured leg. Almonte’s friend Kitzie Nicanor was also hit by the ATV and suffered a broken femur and had her spleen removed. Kitzie Nicanor, 29, grew up in Miami but moved to Seattle five years ago. She was in a coma for a period of time.

Another incident in 2016 in Louisiana-

A Louisiana police pickup truck ran over a woman sunbathing on a beach Thursday afternoon, crushing her pelvis and causing internal bleeding. Assistant Grand Isle Police Chief Norris Esponge Jr. didn’t see 24-year-old Lindsey Gordon and her friend after he circled the beach on the Gulf of Mexico once without finding anyone there, officials with the Louisiana State Police told The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. The other woman managed to get out of the way and scream for Esponge to stop the Ford F-250. Lindsey Gordon, 24, has been undergoing multiple surgeries, since she was rolled over by a pickup truck driven by a Grand Isle police officer on Thursday afternoon. Doctors are repairing a shattered pelvis and internal bleeding on the woman who just wanted to spend a day at the beach.

Multiple incidents have also occurred in California and on east coast in last 5 years.


UPDATE: We filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in Erin Joynt’s case, seeking to change how these cases are handled. Read it here- JoyntMSJ.

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