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As one woman knows, drivers are also victims in pedestrian-involved accidents

TAMPA — Juli Sparks can still see the flash to the right of her car, too big to be an animal. She hears glass shattering. She uses breathing techniques to calm down.

"I replay it in my head over and over, and honest to God, there was nothing I could do," Sparks said. "There was just no way to know."

Sparks, a 39-year-old mother of three, hit and killed a pedestrian while she was driving in October, a month that saw seven pedestrian-involved accidents in the Tampa Bay area. In a sense, Sparks, too, was a victim.

Sparks, a nursing school student, was on her way home from her job at Gold's Gym on a Monday night around 10:15. She wasn't on her phone, wasn't listening to her radio, wasn't even distracted, she said. She was doing everything right, she said, when she hit a 47-year-old man crossing Plantation Boulevard near Rosemount Drive in the Carrollwood area.

Like so many drivers in accidents involving jaywalking pedestrians, she survived and did not face any criminal charges.

But she doesn't exactly feel lucky.

"It was such an emotional experience," she said. "I just don't think people realize what the driver is left with."

• • •

On Sunday night, a 59-year-old man was killed after being hit by two vehicles, both with drivers in their 20s, at 62nd Avenue and Lincoln Way in Lealman in Pinellas County.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers say the man was about 240 feet from an intersection that was marked and lighted for pedestrian crossing. He was wearing dark clothes.

He was the eighth Tampa Bay area pedestrian to be injured or killed by a vehicle in April.

Last month was also a bad month for walkers on the road. Fourteen were injured or killed.

In 2009 — the latest available year for statewide pedestrian accident statistics — the state said 482 people died trying to cross Florida's roads. The statistics show that 232 of them — 48 percent — weren't using a crosswalk.

Florida doesn't keep track of how many pedestrians were at fault when they died. But the state does track one of the most important factors in pedestrian deaths: alcohol use.

The state said that 40 percent — 195 out of 482 — of those who died on foot in 2009 had been drinking.

One man died March 3, according to St. Petersburg police, after stepping in front of a car on Fourth Street outside the Ringside Cafe. The victim had a blood-alcohol level of 0.358, police said, which is more than four times the level at which the state presumes someone is impaired.

"They're taking their own lives into their hands when they don't use crosswalks and pay attention to what they're doing," said St. Petersburg police Lt. William Korinek, who heads the city's traffic section. "The life you save is going to be your own."

• • •

Sparks read a recent article about some St. Petersburg teenagers who were ticketed for jaywalking, and she felt pained. She wrote a letter to the editor, describing her ordeal as a safe driver who hit a pedestrian and the months of posttraumatic stress disorder that followed. She still flinches when a runner or bicyclist gets too close to her car.

"I could not have written that letter two months ago," she said. "The PTSD, it just shocked me."

She still has not read the full report from her accident, and isn't sure how she'll respond if she ever does.

She gets a frustrating reminder of the experience daily when she sees a little sign posted at the accident site near her home.

It reads: Drive safely.

Times researchers Natalie Watson and Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

As one woman knows, drivers are also victims in pedestrian-involved accidents 04/25/11 [Last modified: Monday, April 25, 2011 10:45pm]
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