TAMPA — Saying the other driver was at least as much at fault, state Rep. Kevin Ambler said he will challenge a citation he got after a crash Saturday.
He contends that Janet-Lee Thomas Troupe, 71, changed lanes so suddenly and was driving so quickly toward him on N Dale Mabry Highway that he did not see her as he made a left turn onto Cheval Boulevard.
"I had an open right lane," said Ambler, 49, who was on his way to his Cheval home. "Then she came barreling down."
The Florida Highway Patrol, which investigated the crash, has cited only the state representative and disagrees with his version. The crash sent Troupe to a hospital with injuries.
Ambler is in the final week of a bitterly fought Republican primary campaign against Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman to represent the state Senate District 12, comprising northern Hillsborough and central Pasco counties.
As Ambler's supporters have seized upon St. Petersburg Times reports about Norman's $95,000 Salvation Army salary and his wife's $435,000 Arkansas house purchase in the race, there also has been campaign buzz about Ambler's driving record.
Ambler, chairman of the House Public Safety & Domestic Security Policy Committee, has had 10 speeding tickets in about as many years.
Those are irrelevant, he said Monday, as his speed had nothing to do with Saturday's crash — he was cited for making an improper left turn.
Ambler also faces an appeal in a lawsuit he filed after a 2004 crash with a semitrailer truck that had slowed to turn left in Citrus County. It was before dawn, and Ambler said the truck did not have working lights or a reflective strip.
"He rear-ended our truck and sued us," said Christopher Wadsworth, an attorney for the trucking company. "It's kind of ridiculous."
Ambler was found not guilty of a traffic infraction in that crash. "We proved our case," he said.
In Saturday's noontime accident, Ambler said he was driving a loaner Mercedes sport utility vehicle after dropping his daughter's car off for repairs.
"I was not on the cell phone, I was not texting," he said.
Traveling north on Dale Mabry, he got in the left turning lane. Troupe was headed south in a Toyota 4Runner.
Ambler said he did not see her coming. He believes she was behind a car in the left lane, and then passed it on the right.
"I was three quarters of the way through the intersection," he said.
Troupe's SUV hit the rear end of Ambler's, causing his SUV to spin and throwing hers in the air.
Troupe suffered a broken foot, for which she will need surgery, said Trooper Jennifer Layton.
Troupe could not be reached for comment.
Ambler disagrees with the patrol on two key points.
First: He estimates Troupe was travelling 75 mph. But Layton said a witness puts Troupe's speed at the legal 55, and Troupe told her it was closer to 50.
Second: Ambler said Troupe should not have changed lanes. But Layton said there is nothing illegal about using the right lane to pass, as that stretch of road is not a no-passing zone.
Ambler also said the intersection is confusing. For years, he said, he and his neighbors have tried to persuade the state to build a traffic signal because it is easy to overlook the Cheval entrance. "It looks like an open stretch of road," he said.
Hillsborough Sheriff's Office records show 11 crashes there since 2006, resulting in reports.
At one point, Hillsborough commissioners offered to pay for a signal. They were shot down by the state Department of Transportation, which did not want to disrupt the flow of traffic.
The son of a police officer, Ambler has supported better pay for troopers and sponsored laws that deal with public safety, including a student-authored bill that banned smoking in cars with children.
"The fact is, I'm on the road a lot, traveling long distances," he said. "I'm not proud of the fact that I have a citation here and there. I don't think it's an exceptional amount. And it shows I'm treated just like everybody else on the road."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 624-2739 or [email protected]