TAMPA — A confused witness reported that Marcia Woodside Rivers wore earbuds the day she was crushed to death on Davis Islands by a city garbage truck.
Strangers took to social media to criticize the victim.
But Rivers, 65, was wearing hearing aids, according to a medical examiner report obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.
One was in her ear and the other had fallen to the ground, after the big blue truck hit her on a sidewalk June 26 and dragged her 20 to 30 feet into the street, the report states. The driver was backing away from a dumpster near the office of Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Now the truck is impounded and driver Jarvis Mercer, 49, of Brandon, is on paid administrative leave, while police and city officials investigate.
Police have not yet said what, if any, safety equipment was in use on the truck as it backed out from between two buildings on Davis Boulevard. The medical examiner report does not say whether there were backup lights or an alarm to alert Rivers.
It said the truck has two back up cameras, one on the passenger side and one on the rear.
A city official responded to a public records request shortly after the incident, saying there was no recorded video.
Rivers’ family members are upset that people criticized her, based on an early TV report that mentioned earbuds.
Online commenters suggested that earbuds kept the retired school teacher from hearing the truck. A running enthusiast pointed out the danger of jogging with earbuds in.
Tampa police refuted the earbud rumor in a news release without noting hearing aids.
But they are mentioned in an initial case summary from the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office.
The report says that Rivers’ left hearing aid was found on the ground in front of her. The right one was still in her ear.
The report also said she had diabetes. An insulin pump was found near her.
Rivers had been walking on the sidewalk just minutes from her apartment. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
The driver will face a civil traffic citation for the crash, police announced June 27. Two weeks after the crash, police say their investigation is ongoing.
Mercer has been on paid administrative leave since the crash, said Mark Wilfalk, director of the city’s Solid Waste department. A spokeswoman for the city said Mercer is using accrued leave time, a subcategory of paid administrative leave.
The Times could not reach him for comment. He did not answer his door Tuesday.
As for whether Mercer will be back behind the wheel of a City of Tampa garbage truck again, Wilfalk said on Monday, "It’s too early to tell."
He said after police decide on the civil citation, the Solid Waste department will evaluate the consequences the driver will face as an employee.
For now, Wilfalk said the department is making sure that Mercer has mental health resources available, which are offered to all city employees, following the "traumatic accident."
The department has experience dealing with incidents like scraping other vehicles or hitting overhead power lines.
"But deaths, those are few and far between," he said.
The deadly incident was not Mercer’s first crash on duty.
He was reprimanded in 2015 for a crash on Broadway Avenue that sent the other driver to the hospital with minor injuries and caused $500 of property damage, according to his city personnel file and the traffic citation. A review by the Solid Waste Department determined that crash was preventable.
Mercer has four total civil citations on his state driving record in the last 10 years, including him pleading no contest to two citations for careless driving, in 2009 and 2012. The 2012 case resulted in a crash that caused $3,000 of property damage.
The most recent file in his personnel record as of July 9 was the Solid Waste department’s annual review file for a period ending May 28, 2018. It stated that he had a pending disciplinary action for an incident on Dale Mabry Highway Jan. 17, 2018, in a city garbage truck.
The report said his truck made contact with a tractor trailer’s passenger side mirror and damaged it.
Rivers’ sister now wants to know if, considering Mercer’s previous incidents, the sudden death was preventable.
"The false earbuds stories were asking that question about my sister, who was not wearing earbuds!" Susan Sheppard wrote in an email to the Times.
Noting the four previous citations on his state driving record, Sheppard questioned why Mercer was still behind the wheel of a city garbage truck at all. She asked if there is assurance that he is being permanently prevented from driving a city garbage truck.
"I’m sure he is a very nice person and I hear he was inconsolable," Sheppard wrote. "Knowing what I know about the condition of my sister’s body after he ran over her with a garbage truck, I can imagine why."
Bre Bradham can be reached at [email protected] or (803) 460-9001.