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Before next tragedy, ramp must be marked

It is painfully obvious, now, that the boat ramp at the foot of Cherokee Way in Homosassa is inadequately marked.

That realization comes too late for the five people in two vehicles who found themselves in the Homosassa River Tuesday night when they inadvertently drove off the end of the road and into the water. Bob Romaine, a passenger in one of the cars, drowned before rescuers could get to him. The other four people survived.

Citrus County officials, now, are demanding an explanation of how something like this could happen at a popular public boat ramp in the heart of Homosassa. Perhaps anticipating legal action, the investigation of the incident is being led by the county's insurance broker and risk management consultant.

While that inquiry takes its course, the county must crank up its sign department and put new signs, and plenty of them, at this and other boat ramps around Citrus where drivers could somehow become disoriented.

Now.

Among the questions the investigation will try to answer is what warning signs, if any, were removed from the area near the boat ramp during recent sewer and paving construction and not replaced. If it turns out that any signs were missing, no explanation by the county will be sufficient to Mr. Romaine's family.

The only sign that stood at the time of the accidents indicate that 250 feet away, Cherokee Way winds up in a dead end, but that is not a clear enough warning. Drivers seeing a sign for a dead end typically expect the road to end in something other than water. During the day, drivers can see what awaits them; at night, they are at the mercy of the signs.

Tuesday night, a number of elements converged to make this site particularly dangerous. A severe storm that spawned warnings of possible tornadoes was lashing the county. Winds from the storm had blown over a palm tree, which snagged power lines on its way down, blacking out the area. The four people in the first car were from out of town and unfamiliar with the Homosassa roads. The recent paving work left the roadway covered in fresh, inky-black asphalt that all but disappeared in the night.

One wrong turn later, and the first car was in the river.

A newspaper reporter responding to the accident piloted the second vehicle into the Homosassa. By that time, the lack of signs at the ramp was less a factor as the emergency vehicles, flashing lights and a crowd of onlookers should have provided enough clues that he should exercise caution. He was cited for failure to use due care.

Around Citrus County, there are numerous roads that lead directly to boat ramps, meaning that the potential exists for this sort of accident to occur again. The county must survey each public boat ramp, evaluate whatever signs exist, and replace weathered ones.

Now.

Wherever necessary, the county should erect signs warning drivers that the road is about to give way to water. In the light of day, it may seem absurd to have to alert drivers that such an obvious situation lies ahead. At night, conditions are considerably more dangerous.

Go overboard on the warnings. After all, signs are cheap. Life is not.

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