TAMPA — Mike Brown’s task was supposed to be quick and easy, a routine finishing touch.
Brown’s road crew had installed guardrails on a stretch of Interstate 4. One morning in September, the 62-year-old Valrico grandfather returned to the overpass at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to tack a small sign onto the barrier wall.
He didn’t get a chance to start. Not long after Brown stepped out of his work truck, a car veered onto the shoulder and struck Brown, knocking him out of his shoes and over the side of the overpass.
Two weeks later, 45-year-old Todd Michael Brown — no relation to Mike Brown — was painting lines on Interstate 75 in Ruskin when a car plowed into the construction zone and struck him.
Both men died on their job sites. The drivers in both crashes were impaired and arrested, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Mike Brown and Todd Brown will now be counted among statistics that show how deadly Florida’s roads can be for construction workers. They were also beloved by family members now mourning.
“This wasn’t just some pedestrian,” said Mike Fite, Mike Brown’s son. “This was our father. A lot of people counted on him and now he’s gone.”
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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 24 workers were killed in Florida in “pedestrian vehicular incidents” in 2018, the most recent statistics available. In 2017, 19 workers died in such collisions.
It happened again in Orlando last week, when a 43-year-old construction worker was killed as he tried to stop traffic, according to the Highway Patrol.
Any incident involving a pedestrian or worker in a work zone is “one too many,” Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kris Carson said in an email.
To protect workers, Carson said, the department hires law enforcement to patrol in work areas and brings in illuminated signs that use radar to tell drivers their speed. In addition, new “smart” technology and moveable barriers are in development or under research.
“These innovative solutions can alert work zone personnel to changes in work zone speeds, traffic volume, and the presence of errant drivers," Carson said.
Mike Brown spent more than half his life working on Florida’s roads.
Born in Kokomo, Ind., Brown was still a child when he moved to the Tampa area with his mother Annie. As an adult, the avid guitar player wrote a ballad in her honor called My Kids and Me.
She was a single mom in a singlewide, trying to keep four kids from being deprived ... she kept it together with that factory shuffle.
Brown graduated from East Bay High School, where he played basketball and led the county in scoring, his son said.
He started with Alford Construction as a general laborer in 1984, said Barry Alford, the company’s project coordinator and son of founder Gary Alford. The company installs guardrails, riprap and other crash-cushioning measures on Department of Transportation projects throughout the state. Brown was soon promoted to superintendent.
“He was a great leader,” said Barry Alford, 49, who was about 8 when he first met Brown on a job site. “He was easygoing, he was responsible, he was customer friendly.”
The job helped Brown and his wife Donna provide for their own two kids in Valrico and two grandchildren they adopted, now 18 and 17.
“He sacrificed what he needed for his kids to have," Fite said. “You couldn’t ask for a better father, a better grandfather."
Donna Brown died of a heart attack in August 2019 at 56. The sudden loss hit the family hard.
On Sept. 24, the family found themselves grieving again.
Mike Brown’s task that morning was attaching to the barrier wall some small placards that identify the location of the overpass — in this case, King Boulevard. He pulled his truck onto the outside shoulder of the westbound lanes.
At about the same time, 55-year-old Victor Melchionne of Tampa was heading west in a Kia Rio. A witness riding in another car told investigators the Kia passed in the right lane as Brown walked around the front of his work truck, according to a motion prosecutors filed to keep Melchionne in jail pending trial.
The witness "then saw the silver Kia veer off onto the shoulder and hit the victim, sending him up the front passenger hood area and cartwheeling in the air over the overpass,” the motion says.
Brown landed on the grass beside King Boulevard. Barry Alford said when other employees arrived at the scene, one of the signs Brown planned to install was lying on the overpass near his shoes.
The Kia bounced off a barrier and guardrail a number of times. Investigators estimated the Kia was traveling as fast as 83 mph at the time of the crash. The speed limit on that stretch of the interstate is 65 mph.
“When the defendant got out of the driver’s side of his vehicle he was observed laughing, saying, ‘I fell asleep,’” the motion says.
Melchionne, who was not injured, repeated the statement to investigators, saying he couldn’t remember hitting anyone, court records show. He said he’d taken the sedative Ativan at about 3 a.m. and drank two or three vodka cranberry drinks at about the same time. He said he’d hardly slept in two days.
Melchionne performed poorly on field sobriety exercises and refused to provide a urine sample. Prosecutors have charged him with DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide, DUI third conviction and refusal to submit to testing.
Booking records list Melchionne as unemployed. A judge appointed him a public defender.
In the motion for pretrial detention, prosecutors note that Melchionne was charged with DUI in 1987 in Broward County. A decade later while still on probation, he was again charged with DUI and convicted, this time in Hillsborough County.
At a hearing after the crash, a judge ordered Melchionne to be held without bail.
Mike Fite, who testified at the hearing, said Melchionne has had enough chances.
“I really hope the justice system comes through,” Fite said. “He should get the maximum.”
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Todd Michael Brown wasn’t far from where he grew up when he arrived at the job site Oct. 9.
Brown’s family couldn’t be reached for this story, but his obituary says he was born and raised in Brandon, one of three siblings. He worked for McShea Contracting, a Lehigh Acres company that specializes in pavement marking. Company officials have declined to comment to the Times.
Brown and a coworker, Anthony Garcia, were painting lane lines in the closed center lane on I-75 at about 4 a.m. when a Ford Fusion barreled into the marked construction zone, according to a motion for pretrial detention filed by prosecutors.
Garcia heard a “bang/boom,” felt something hit him and then saw Todd Brown “propelled in the air past him,” the motion says. A car sped by Garcia, just missing him.
Several road workers followed the Ford as it continued north for about a quarter of a mile. One of them, Owen Tracey, pulled his truck in front of the car.
The driver of the Ford, 29-year-old Michael J. Forbes Jr. of Seffner, got out and offered Tracey money for a ride to Brandon, the records say.
“Mr. Tracey told the defendant no, that he had just hit a man, and told him not to go anywhere,” the motion says.
Forbes ran into a wooded area in the center median, where he was caught by a Hillsborough deputy. Records say he had the odor of alcohol on his breath and performed poorly on field sobriety exercises.
Nearly three hours after the crash, a breath analyzer device estimated his blood alcohol level was .150 and .151 at 6:50 a.m. Florida law presumes a driver is impaired with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or greater.
Forbes was booked into the Hillsborough County jail on charges of DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of a crash involving the death of a vulnerable road user.
In the motion, prosecutors note Forbes served two stints in state prison between 2013 and 2016 for burglary and grand theft in Manatee County. In 2011, he was convicted in Manatee of leaving the scene of a crash, reckless driving, obstructing an officer and driving without a valid license or registration.
In a motion asking a judge to set bail for Forbes, defense attorney Ray C. Lopez wrote that his client pulled over “only a quarter mile up the road." Lopez wrote that when Forbes saw other people and vehicles "had come after him, he ducked into the bushes near the highway because he was scared.
“The Defendant was somewhat disoriented due to the accident, it was almost pitch black and the Defendant was in fear for his safety,” Lopes wrote.
The motion says Forbes is raising five children and was working two jobs, at World of Beer and mattress manufacturer Sleep International. Unswayed, a judge ordered him to be held without bail.
Todd Brown didn’t have kids, but he left behind a girlfriend and a dog named Princess, his obituary says. He was a Chicago Bulls fan who loved basketball, fishing and playing pranks.
“Todd was a hard worker and is remembered by his coworkers as a mentor, a role model and a dependable friend,” the obituary says. “As a true and devoted workmate, Todd would help anyone in need at any time.”