RIVERVIEW — A 72-year-old woman crossing a dark, four-lane road in front of her assisted living center died Thursday night when a passing car struck her.
Julia F. Jacobsen had been the first to sign a lease at the new facility on Bloomingdale Avenue, which opened two months ago. She moved there from an assisted living center she shared with her husband, who died of brain cancer two years ago.
Before that, the couple resided in a subdivision in FishHawk Ranch. Their former neighbors said they heard she had problems of her own, and may have been suffering from dementia.
Heron Glen resident Ursula Triner, 60, said Jacobsen's daughter told her there were times the woman didn't recognize her two grandchildren.
At The Bridges facility, however, she didn't live in the special area where people with mental issues are monitored 24/7. She lived in an assisted-living apartment, where she could come and go as she pleased, said Jack Goodwyn, spokesman for the Senior Care Group, which owns The Bridges.
At 10:45 p.m. Thursday, she stepped into a path of a moving car and was killed. The driver, Joseph Stevens, isn't facing any charges, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office reported.
Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Debbie Carter said its unclear why Jacobsen was out walking. Her path would have led her near Winthrop Town Centre, where the only open businesses at that time would have been Acropolis Greek Taverna and Green Iguana Bar & Grill.
"I'm not sure if it was Alzheimer's," Triner said. "But if she was that way, then why would she be left where she could come and go?"
Jacobsen was a former yacht club officer and widow of an ex-New York City police detective who wrote three detective novels. They had been married 50 years. She left behind a daughter and two grandchildren.
Stevens, 21, was still shaken up Friday. He said he was returning from Target with his girlfriend when his 2008 Toyota hit Jacobsen. It was dark, he said, and he didn't see her.
He said nurses at the scene told him Jacobsen had been suffering from dementia. They told him she had said her family was trying to take her money.
That statement is similar to one found in a Sheriff's Office report, which was written when Jacobsen was arrested in January 2007 for domestic violence. Her husband, Bill Jacobsen, told deputies that she pushed him and said she had a loaded gun because he was giving money to their daughter and because she was going to an assisted-living facility.
The charges were dropped.
In a phone interview Friday morning, Goodwyn said Jacobsen did not show signs of dementia. He did not return calls later in the day to discuss the conflicting information.
At a news conference Friday, facility and corporate officials wouldn't answer reporters' questions. Goodwyn simply stated he wanted the community to know the facility is safe.
With only about 30 residents, there are many vacancies, and they plan to build independent living villas on the property.
The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration will investigate the death, as it does with all adverse incidents at assisted-living centers, agency spokeswoman Tiffany Vause said. Based on what the agency finds, it can impose sanctions or fines, she said. She expects the report will be completed in a few weeks.
Natalie Clanzy, a regional director of the Florida Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, said Florida law requires assisted-living centers to provide safe living environments.
Speaking generally about the situation, she said before new residents can move in they must fill out a form about their health care needs, which must be signed by a doctor. If a resident had dementia, he or she would need to be under adequate supervision, she said.
"It is (the facility's) responsibility to be sure they meet their residents' needs," she said.
Times staff researcher John Martin and staff writer Kim Wilmath contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.