Romano: Who is going to protect us from ourselves?

Published Nov. 1, 2016

It has been several days, and I still can't stop thinking about the children.

Maria Murillo was 10, her brother John was 9. They went to church with their mother Wednesday night in Tampa and then climbed into a minivan for the ride home.

The idea that they never made it there is tragic.

The reason why is soul-crushing.

It was not evil that killed them, nor was it a fluke of nature. Instead, if preliminary reports are accurate, two beautiful children lost their lives because someone was showing off in another car.

By now, you've probably heard the story. A 10-second video on the social media app Snapchat appears to show a Brandon man driving 115 mph moments before losing control of his car, crossing a median and smashing into the minivan, killing himself, a passenger, the two children and their mother.

A couple of days later, I was driving about 70 mph on the interstate and had a car blow past me in the next lane as if I was standing still. Had I been changing lanes and not realized the approaching car was going somewhere in excess of 95 mph, we'd both likely be dead. Minutes later, it happened again.

I went from being sad about the children to being ticked off about the monumental stupidity of the world. There are too many people who don't seem to grasp that roadways require collaboration and, if even one car deviates from the norm, then everyone is being put in danger.

And that's when I started wondering if Florida laws do enough to protect us.

Should we establish stricter standards for reckless driving, as some other states have done? Should we have minimum jail sentences for reckless driving convictions, again as some other states have done? Should we treat reckless driving with the same aggressiveness we've shown on drunken driving?

In theory, those ideas have appeal. In reality, they're more complicated.

Some reckless driving fines are already $1,000, and yet we still have foolish driving incidents. A minimum jail sentence of even a few days would make reckless driving a more severe penalty than a first-time DUI case. And license suspensions do not keep people off the road, but rather lead to jail sentences and the resulting economic complications.

"Is this type of driving dangerous? Yes. Do people die? Yes. But will increasing penalties have a positive effect? I'm not convinced it will," said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. "We see this type of stuff every single night. Seriously, reckless driving, especially in stolen cars. It's mind-boggling when you see it, and I can tell you the folks doing it are not going to be deterred by harsher penalties."

Hours before we spoke, Gualtieri was driving northbound on Interstate 275 near Gandy Boulevard when he saw a motorcycle speeding past traffic in the southbound lanes. The interstate barriers kept Gualtieri from turning around, so he checked his rearview mirror as he passed in the opposite direction:

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The motorcyclist was doing a wheelie down the interstate.

"If I had been able to turn around, I would have put him in jail on the spot," Gualtieri said. "But it's hard to fix stupid.

"And that's what we're dealing with here. A complete lack of recognition of their own safety, and the safety of those around them."