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Defiantly driving, despite warning signs

SUN CITY CENTER — Roger Young says his neighbor Julian Andorka is "one of the worst drivers . . . ever."

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Andorka is 87. He blows through stop signs, Young says. He cuts people off. And in 2008, he caused a wreck that seriously injured his 95-year-old wife. She died in a rehab center two months later.

Young was so concerned that he wrote to the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. When the state didn't take away Andorka's license, Young called the St. Petersburg Times, which had just published a series about older drivers.

"I'm really upset," Young said. "The man shouldn't be driving."

Andorka, a retired DePaul University marketing professor, says he is a fine driver. He drives to the bank. To restaurants. Day and night, he's out there.

"In . . . years, I have never had an accident until this one," he said.

Andorka was so confident that he is a good driver that he agreed to prove it. So one day recently, he got into a Ford Focus with two brake pedals — one for him and the other for a driving evaluator hired by the Times.

He promised to "drive the way I always drive." The question was whether he — or anyone else — would be safe if he did.

• • •

Roger Young, 68, met Julian and Lucille Andorka several years ago at Sun City Center, the retirement community where Young and Andorka still live. The Andorkas hired Young, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant, to look after their Lhasa apso.

He also took Lucille to doctor's appointments when, he says, she became afraid of Julian's driving. Often, she gave him money in thanks for his help.

Young and his wife, Dodie, 61, were passengers in Julian's car when they visited the Andorkas at their home in Maryland.

"He scared the living hell out of both of us," Young said.

Lucille Andorka even told Young and one of her sons from her first marriage, Bill Hearne, that she was afraid of dying in a car accident with her husband.

Young said he tried to get Andorka to give up driving many times, to no avail. Andorka says Young wanted him to stop so he could make more money driving Lucille around.

On Nov. 19, 2008, the Andorkas had just finished an eggs Benedict breakfast at a local restaurant. He pulled out of a strip mall entrance into the path of a Dodge van. The driver, a 37-year-old woman, rammed into them, sending the Andorkas' Lincoln careening into a tree.

Both of them went to the hospital. The police ticketed him for failure to wear a seat belt and violation of the right-of-way. He still feels it may have been the other driver's fault.

He got out of the hospital after 10 days but Lucille had broken ribs and extensive bruising. Later she had a stroke. Two months after the accident, she died.

Young complained to the state: "Something has to be done with drivers like him."

A spokeswoman for the DMV said she cannot discuss specific cases. But Andorka said the DMV called him in for a conversation and a vision test and sent him home. He was not given a road test.

He later received a letter from the DMV: "Your driving privilege remains in effect . . . we wish you many years of safe driving."

• • •

Julian Andorka answered his front doorbell one day recently with a big smile.

He was tall and tanned with a thick shock of white hair. He strolled arm in arm to his patio with a reporter who had come to talk about Young's tough criticisms. On the patio table he had a stack of papers.

A letter from Young: "As far as I'm concerned, your accident on Nov. 19, 2008 was the direct cause of her death." The two men don't speak anymore.

This year's Christmas letter: "I am a ghost of my former self, having no aches, no pains, no wife, just a miserable life."

Julian and Lucille met on a cruise out of Los Angeles 10 years ago. He called her Darling and Sweetie and Poopsy.

He pulled out a copy of a book he wrote in 2004, My Tributes to Women. It has sections on country girls, hookers, nurses, mothers and Lucille, who reminded him of the Lucky Strike cigarette slogan: "So round, so firm, so fully packed."

"Believe me, I miss her," he said, sitting down.

On the wall of his office is a sign she bought him:

"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intent of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body but rather to skid in broadside thoroughly used up and totally worn out and proclaiming, 'Wow, what a ride.' "

• • •

Douglas McMullen of A Sureway Driving School has 15 years' experience as an instructor. He has often worked with the elderly. A few weeks ago, the Times asked Andorka if he would be willing to have someone evaluate his driving, and he agreed. The paper paid McMullen the standard fee of $119 to do the job.

State DMV inspectors use a points system when testing people for their licenses. It takes 31 points to fail.

McMullen wasn't keeping score during the evaluation of Andorka, but if he had been, Andorka would have racked up six points within minutes of pulling out of his driveway.

"Julian, I notice the last couple turns, you did not use your signal," McMullen said.

"Because there is nobody around me," Andorka replied.

Soon Andorka moved into the left lane of a four-lane road without using his blinker. (Four points.)

He pulled up to a left turn lane. The light was green but Andorka froze (one point). The driver of a black Dodge honked and illegally pulled around on the right.

"We had an opening there, Julian, and you could have made it, that's why this car is beeping at us," McMullen said.

Julian pulled into a Sav-A-Lot parking lot. He rolled through a stop sign (an automatic disqualification). He stopped at another stop sign and looked both ways.

Then he came to the place where the accident happened. The road is angled so that he had to look over his left shoulder to see oncoming traffic. He appeared to have trouble peering back far enough to see.

"Unfortunately, when you get old, you have a hard time turning your head," McMullen said quietly. Andorka said later he could see fine.

McMullen asked Andorka to turn into a parking spot at Bob Evans, then back out. Andorka didn't turn his head at all, just glanced at a side mirror and put the car into reverse (10 points)

"You should look left, right and into your rear view mirror," McMullen said.

Over the next half hour, Andorka twice crossed into a left lane without using his blinker (four points each time), followed a car so closely that McMullen got ready to stomp on his brake (four points), failed to signal when turning into a parking space (four points), and backed out without turning his head (10 points).

Soon Andorka picked up on some of McMullen's tips. He started using his signal more and looking both ways when turning.

But on the way home, he failed to stop until very late for a red light (one point; McMullen had to say "Watch the light!"). Then he failed to use his right turn signal (two points) and rolled through two more stop signs (dealbreaker).

Andorka pulled into his driveway, said "Thanks for the ride," and disappeared inside.

McMullen stood there a moment, reflecting. He said Andorka might improve with training and a wide angle rear view mirror. He has seen others like Andorka get help and pass the driving test.

But he acknowledged Andorka would have failed multiple times over.

• • •

On Wednesday, with his daughter and son-in-law in from Chicago, Andorka was given the results of the evaluation.

He acknowledged he made mistakes, but didn't think he was a danger. His daughter, Veronica Willenius, thinks he is okay to drive but urged him to take a refresher course.

Andorka was firm that he wants to keep his keys. "If I give up the car, I'm finished," he said.

Still, he plans to go to the state and take a formal driving test.

"Whatever they say, I'll obey."

Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at lapeter@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8640. Researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.

Warning signs

Here are some indicators of impaired driving:

. Getting lost in familiar places

. Failing to observe and obey traffic signs and speed limits

. Trouble navigating turns or judging distance

. Drifting across lanes

. Stopping before intersections

. Parking inappropriately

. Scrapes on car, garage or mailbox

Source: Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas Inc.

Need help?

If you're looking for transportation options in Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando and Hillsborough counties, call the Senior Helpline at 1-800-96-ELDER, (800-963-5337).

Defiantly driving, despite warning signs 12/30/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 30, 2009 11:29pm]
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