Saturday, April 21, 2018
Public safety

Motorcyclist, 100-year-old driver collide

APOLLO BEACH — Howard DeMask headed to the beauty parlor to pick up his wife of 75 years.

At 100, he does the driving.

His family doesn't worry about him navigating the area's familiar roads. His driving record in Florida is spotless. The last time he took a vision test, he passed it on the first try.

He has never had any problems before.

On Tuesday afternoon, that changed.

Turning left onto Flamingo Drive from U.S. 41, DeMask's 2003 Buick Century collided with a motorcycle driven by Timothy Mohammed Soliman, 22, of Apollo Beach, sending Soliman to the hospital in critical condition.

DeMask didn't see him coming.

"It happened so fast," he said. "I looked out on the street and there was a fella laying there. I thought, 'how did this guy get here?' "

Many of the specifics of the case were still unknown Wednesday. No one has been cited or charged. But the case puts the spotlight on a small group of Florida's eldest drivers and raises an important public safety question:

Is there an age when drivers should retire the keys for good?

"There's a certain age when people probably shouldn't be driving anymore," said Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad. "I'll get there, you'll get there, we'll all get there."

Florida has 455 licensed drivers age 100 and older.

Pinellas County leads the Tampa Bay region with 39, followed by Pasco with 22, Hillsborough with 16 and Hernando with four.

The number of licensed drivers between 91 and 100 is much larger: About 65,000.

Stories of dangerous elderly drivers are common; the stereotypes rampant. They drive too slowly. They react late. They mistake the gas pedal for the brakes and slam into buildings.

But drivers 90 years and older actually have the lowest rate of crashes in the state, according to the most recent data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

There are about 79 crashes for every 10,000 licensed drivers, roughly 3.75 times lower than the 15- to 19-year-old demographic, which owns the highest crash rate.

That demographic sees about 364 crashes for every 10,000 licensed drivers.

But seniors fare worse when you consider miles driven. Judged that way, statistics have shown, the rate of crashes jumps markedly after age 80.

• • •

There's no age when drivers are required to put away the keys.

Driving is a personal freedom. It's convenient, fun, a symbol of one's independence.

State officials want to ensure that older drivers "maintain their driving independence as long as they continue to drive safely and confidently," said Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Steve Gaskins.

Elderly drivers have few additional requirements in order to renew a license.

Drivers 80 and older must renew their license every six years instead of eight, and take a vision exam every renewal instead of every other one.

"You're getting your vision tested every six years instead of every 16," said Courtney Heidelberg, a spokeswoman with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, explaining the difference.

For Soliman's family, that's not enough.

"I can't imagine that I would be totally coherent at the age of 100 and have the reaction time to operate a vehicle," said Soliman's mother, Hanna Soliman.

She suggests a road test would be more beneficial in determining who gets to drive.

• • •

DeMask looked around for the other car and was surprised to learn he hit a motorcycle.

"He must have went over my car," he said.

Soliman was taken to Tampa General Hospital. On Wednesday, he was in serious condition. He had two broken arms, a broken knee and broken ankle as well as a minor brain injury, his family said.

DeMask had only minor injuries including a wound on his chest caused by broken glass. His Buick was totaled, he said.

It was unclear how fast Soliman was going at the time of the crash. He was not wearing his helmet.

Soliman has a history of traffic infractions, with four speeding tickets, a ticket for running a stop sign and one for not wearing a seat belt.

A day before the crash, Soliman's license was suspended indefinitely for not going to court-ordered traffic school tied to an August 2011 speeding ticket, FHP Capt. Nancy Rasmussen said.

Craig DeMask, 47, said his grandfather was very upset about the crash.

"It's just sad," he said. "This is going to weigh with him. It will bother him for a long time."

DeMask said his grandfather has never been in a crash as long as he's been alive.

"We didn't want him really driving to Orlando, but driving around there, he was fine," he said.

He said his grandfather was very sharp.

He reads a couple books a week from the library.

His memory is sharp — he remembers selling the newspaper when World War I ended.

"He's amazing."

Howard DeMask and his wife, Louise, have lived in Apollo Beach for 40 years.

He is retired from Goodyear in Akron, Ohio, where he was a maintenance worker.

After the accident, DeMask stayed in his car, dazed.

"I was so surprised I just sat there and picked a few pieces of glass out of my hand," DeMask said.

He said he wasn't sure if he would drive again.

"It depends on how things work out," he said.

From the kitchen, his wife chimed in: "I don't think he'll be allowed to drive again."

Times staff writer Marissa Lang and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386.

Comments
Deputies: Woman in road rage incident targeted ... a school bus?

Deputies: Woman in road rage incident targeted ... a school bus?

TAMPA — Deputies are searching for a woman accused of blocking a special needs school bus with her car, getting out and banging and kicking on the bus door until she broke the glass.And there were four children inside, deputies said, as she shouted a...
Updated: 6 hours ago
St. Pete police search for missing 20-year-old woman

St. Pete police search for missing 20-year-old woman

ST. PETERSBURG — Officers are searching for a 20-year-old woman who they believe to be missing and who could be in danger.Kayla Brandi Boone was last seen at about 11 p.m. Thursday in the 2700 block of Fourth Street S, according to St. Petersburg pol...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Deputies: 19-month-old child found in New Port Richey pond has died

NEW PORT RICHEY — The 19-month-old child that was found in a pond on Thursday afternoon has died, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.The incident took place at about 12:31 p.m. Deputies and firefighters were called out to a home in the 47...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Cops used dead man’s finger in attempt to access his phone. It’s legal, but is it okay?

Cops used dead man’s finger in attempt to access his phone. It’s legal, but is it okay?

LARGO — Most people agree what the Largo detectives did at the funeral home was legal.What they diverge on is whether it was appropriate."I just felt so disrespected and violated," said Victoria Armstrong, whose fiance, Linus F. Phillip., was shot an...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Suspect in Gilchrist deputies’ slayings has Tampa Bay ties

Suspect in Gilchrist deputies’ slayings has Tampa Bay ties

The man identified as the suspect who fatally shot two Gilchrist County deputies in a restaurant Thursday afternoon before taking his own life has ties to the Tampa Bay area.Deputies say John Hubert Highnote, 59, of Bell — who was found dead outside ...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Authorities say motive in deputy killings may never be known

Authorities say motive in deputy killings may never be known

TRENTON — Investigators in Florida say they may never know why a man - a recluse from a rural farm community who rarely ventured into town - killed two sheriff’s deputies while they sat in a Chinese restaurant. John Hubert Highnote, 58, of Bell casua...
Published: 04/20/18
One injured, suspect in custody in Ocala school shooting

One injured, suspect in custody in Ocala school shooting

OCALA — One student shot another in the ankle at a Florida high school and the suspected shooter is in custody, authorities said Friday.The Marion County Sheriff’s Office reported that the shooting happened Friday morning at Forest High School, which...
Published: 04/20/18
Flight attendants say ‘appalling’ Southwest flight photo confirms it — you’re not paying attention to the safety demo

Flight attendants say ‘appalling’ Southwest flight photo confirms it — you’re not paying attention to the safety demo

Mario Nunez called it a "huge shaking my head moment" when the photo inside the cabin of Southwest Airlines flight 1380 appeared on his TV.The story was about a terrifying emergency landing after an engine exploded 20 minutes into a trip from New Yor...
Published: 04/20/18
A state trooper kept pulling women over to ask for dates

A state trooper kept pulling women over to ask for dates

TRENTON, N.J. — A New Jersey State Police trooper accused of repeatedly pulling over women to ask them out on dates has been indicted. The state attorney general’s office announced Thursday that 32-year-old Eric Richardson faces charges including off...
Published: 04/20/18
Pinellas detention deputy fired for using racial slur

Pinellas detention deputy fired for using racial slur

LARGO — Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri fired a detention deputy Friday after an internal investigation found he used a racial slur to describe black inmates.A fellow Pinellas County Jail deputy reported Jorge Lopez, 30, after he repeatedly used the s...
Published: 04/20/18