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Palm Coast Builds Path Where Michelle Taylor, 16, Was Killed; To Her Father, It’s “7 Years Too Late”

| August 30, 2018

Michelle Taylor's memorial on Lakeview Boulevard in Palm Coast, opposite the construction site where a path will be built, a year and a half after she was killed by a passing car on the dark road. (© FlaglerLive)

Michelle Taylor’s memorial on Lakeview Boulevard in Palm Coast, opposite the construction site where a path will be built, a year and a half after she was killed by a passing car on the dark road. (© FlaglerLive)

A few weeks ago Palm Coast government’s contractors started working on a 1-mile footpath along Lakeview Boulevard at the north end of the city, between LaMancha Drive and London Drive. The path will also be lit by 43 streetlights.

“I hope they have an opening ceremony because I’m going to be there,” says Lawton Taylor. “You can guarantee I’m going to be there. I think it’s all well and good,” he said of the path and the lights, “but it’s what, six seven years too late?”

Residents had long asked for lights on Lakeview as elsewhere in frequently obscure, pathless Palm Coast, a city that for years paid more attention to the beauty of its medians, frills at its parks or $10 million perks of its own, as when it built City Hall with ready money, before more directly addressing the safety of pedestrians on pathless and lightless streets.

It took the death of 16-year-old Michelle Taylor, the involvement of students at Matanzas High School and a newer, more involved city council to finally move the city administration out of its lethargy.

That’s why Lawton Taylor wants to be at the “opening ceremony” of the path on lakeview: so officials can see his un-abating grief and deep resentment face to face.

At 10:45 p.m. on March 2, 2017, a Florida Highway Patrol Trooper notified Taylor at his home on nearby London Drive that his 16-year-old daughter was dead. Michelle had been knocked off the road and killed by a passing car as Michelle walked along Lakeview with her friend Elizabeth Sherman, 21, who was also struck by the car and severely injured. But Lawton had already sensed something was wrong. He could tell from the police lights shining through the living room, as he does not live far from the crash scene.

Michelle and Sherman had been doing what they did routinely for exercise: walk a loop from London Drive to Lakeview. That night seemed ideal for a walk: 61 degrees, cloudy, but dry.

But Lakeview had no sidewalks, no lights, not even a proper shoulder on its east side: the few tufts of shoulder “sloped down 17.9 percent away from the roadway,” into a ditch, according to a Florida Highway Patrol traffic homicide investigation. It was pitch black as the pair walked north that night when the car knocked both walkers off their path. Taylor would end up at the bottom of the ditch.

There won’t be a ceremony to dedicate the path, of course. The city likes its ceremonies focused on its own big projects, like sewer plants, its city hall, its community center, not mere paths for neighborhood residents. Particularly not paths that owe their existence, if symbolically, to one of those grim roadside monuments that go up near the spot where a person has been killed in a road crash.

Michelle’s is marked by a weathered cross of wood lightly painted in sky-blue and white clouds, with a sun shining from the top, and a plush bear and a rosary hanging from the cross. Next to the cross a beaded treble clef rises above several bunches of flowers, like music stilled.

“And here I am burying my daughter and they’re putting frickin’ umbrellas over monkey bars?”

And there’s been this irony since the monument went up: four small lights, the only lights on Lakeside, shining on what, to Lawton Taylor, might as well have been a crime–if not the driver’s (she’s been exonerated, though Taylor won’t accept it), then the city’s.

“And here I am burying my daughter and they’re putting frickin’ umbrellas over monkey bars?” Lawton Taylor said, a reference to the city’s absurdly expensive parasols, more aesthetically pleasing than useful, the city council approved for four city parks just five weeks after Michelle’s death, at a cost of $425,000–almost as much as the $487,000 listed cost of laying down the footpath on Lakeview.

According to the homicide report obtained by FlaglerLive, which narrates details of the crash and the investigation never disclosed until now, Yajaira Rojas Torres, a 37-year-old nurse, was driving her Honda Civic north on Lakeview that night. She’d just gotten off work at Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach. She was on her way to her boyfriend’s, Carlos Veloso.

The report concluded that Taylor and Sherman were walking in the road, “occupying the driving portion of the roadway with their back to traffic, with Michelle to the right of Sherman. Torres did not see them “until the last second.” She struck them both. The car struck both victims’ heads as their bodies were violently thrust back from the force of the impact, with Sherman then catapulted 63 feet north of the point of impact, and Michelle thrust into the ditch. Torres skidded 134 feet north of the point of impact before coming to a stop. It was a 40 mph speed zone. Torres claimed she was going 45.

The violence of the crash can be deduced by the scattering of the victims’ effects: one pink sock was discovered 66 feet north of the point of impact, another, 88 feet north of it. A pair of broken eyeglasses was found 78 feet north of impact.

The homicide report concluded that she’d been going 54 at “minimum.” She may have been going faster, though the report also concluded that the crash would still have occurred if she’d been going the speed limit. What the report doesn’t say is if Sherman would have been as severely injured, or if Michelle would have been killed.

The driver did not initially call 911. She called her boyfriend and told him to come to the scene. She rendered aid to Sherman. Two minutes later, she called 911. Only when Veloso, the boyfriend, arrived at the scene was Michelle located.

Torres volunteered a blood sample at the scene. It came back negative for alcohol or drugs.

The report also concluded that Torres never left the roadway–a finding Lawton Taylor rejects. He thinks to this day that his daughter and her friend were doing what they always did, walk on the very side of the road, and that the car briefly left the road and struck them, and only then returned to the road. The homicide report does indicate a swerve, but only after the point of impact, with the vehicle never leaving the pavement. In sum, the report blamed Sherman and Taylor for walking on the pavement.

Florida Highway Patrol Cpl. Pete Young conducted the homicide report. Assistant State Attorney Jason Lewis reviewed it to determine if there’d be any criminal charges. Both concluded that there would not be: “The investigation is complete and no charges will be filed because the at fault person expired as a result of the crash,” the report ended.

Assistant State Attorney Jason Lewis, left, and Cpl. Pete Young, the Florida Highway Patrol Traffic Homicide Investigator who handled the case. (© FlaglerLive)

Assistant State Attorney Jason Lewis, left, and Cpl. Pete Young, the Florida Highway Patrol Traffic Homicide Investigator who handled the case. (© FlaglerLive)

Lawton Taylor says Young did not do a complete job because he did not analyze the vehicle’s “black box,” which could have provided more precise speed and other data.  “why wasn’t it taken?” he asks. “Why weren’t the the phone records taken? It took them seven months to do it and only after we called the State Attorney’s office did they finally somehow miraculously get them.” The phone records showed Torres was not on the phone–she was not distracted–when the crash took place.

“You can’t charge somebody that didn’t do anything wrong, he swears they were in the grass, but they weren’t,” Young, a veteran traffic homicide investigator said. He explained that black-box analysis isn’t conducted in all crashes, and even when it’s done, there has to be information to back up black-box findings. All that could be done when the investigation was done, he said, and it was reviewed by several people up the chain of command. Young is not known for going easy on drivers: for decades on the force, he has historically pursued criminal driving behavior where he finds it. Last June, his investigation led to the sentencing to life in prison of William Schwarz, the driver who caused a crash on State Road A1A that killed Kathleen J. Boos and her brother-in-law Carl Boos almost a year to the day before Michelle’s death. (That case also paired Young and Lewis.)

Still, Lawton Taylor has not been mollified. “They can say whatever they want. I’m done. I’m going to fight now,” he said. “There’s so many questions that nobody can answer for me.”

Palm Coast issued a press release announcing work on the path on July 30. The crash and Michelle Taylor were not mentioned.  

Traffic Homicide Investigation of Michelle Taylor Death (2017)

18 Responses for “Palm Coast Builds Path Where Michelle Taylor, 16, Was Killed; To Her Father, It’s “7 Years Too Late””

  1. Florida voter says:

    Regarding the first half of the article: About time … no, Mr. Taylor is right, it’s too late. Now, what about other busy roads? Ray? Sesame? — Oh yeah, the city started a sidewalk along Sesame, but they stopped before the sidewalk reached the park.

    Regarding the 2nd half: I thought as the driver of a 2000+ pound tool, it was the driver’s responsibility to avoid road hazards … including pedestrians in the lane. At least where I learned to drive, if Ms. Torres had rear-ended a disabled vehicle, she would be (at least in part) at fault; how is killing a pedestrian somehow excusable?

  2. Veteran says:

    Something doesn’t smell right. If the girls were on the edge of the road, why didn’t the cars headlight illuminate them. If the driver was doing the speed limit she had time to move over a foot or two. I believe she was doing at least per the damage to the vehicle. I used to live in the neighborhood and cars are always speeding there.

  3. Vet says:

    The speed for people walking at night where I am is 10 mph or stop completely. I still can not see them. Driving slow doesn’t always mean you can see people. I’m sorry for their loss but why is someone walking on the edge or on the road when they can clearly see headlights illuminating on the road.

  4. Mark says:

    So safety has finally pushed the median bushes, trees and flowers down from top priority! Excellent!

  5. Fat Boy says:

    A very unfortunate and unnecessary accident & I agree that Palm Coast needs more sidewalks (for pedestrians’ use, not bicyclists, which is a whole other issue) and many more street lamps.
    I have walked that London – Lakeview loop for years. Normal speed on Lakeview is much more than 50 mph.
    If walking on Lakeview, a pedestrian has to be very alert, as it is common for cars not to slow down or move toward the center of the road when passing by, especially if an oncoming vehicle is coming in the opposite direction.
    I do question the wisdom of waking that road at night. And if walking north on Lakeview, what were the pedestrians doing on the east side of the road? As a kid who had to walk just about everywhere, I was taught to walk facing oncoming traffic. This seems to be the exception to the rule in Palm Coast. This whole tragic affair may have been avoided if there were street lamps and a sidewalk, but also if the pedestrians were not walking on a dark unlit road with traffic approaching from behind them.

  6. Hmmm says:

    My heart goes out to the family. But you can’t blame city officials. If a car is coming, you need to move. Dont assume they see you or in some cases i see, act to tough like you’re invincible. I tell my children, dont put your life in other peoples hands.

  7. Lnzc says:

    The city is waiting until some school kids are killed on Parkview before they will put in a sidewalk
    Got to waste money on things to make city pretty ,plant trees to suck up water
    And pay a city manager outrageous salery

  8. A Concerned Observer says:

    I cannot imagine the pain the father, family and friends of these two young women in this tragic accident have endured and that they are obviously still experiencing. Their pain is understandingly coloring their understanding of the events of that horrible night. We must also not forget the pain the driver has had to live with all this time as well. I am sure there is guilt felt by her even though she was exonerated of all blame by the investigation.

    That being said, the facts documented in the FHP Traffic Homicide Investigator’s report clearly place the two pedestrians in fault for the accident, and it was that; an accident. The location of the damage to the vehicle and lack of tire tracks in the grass clearly indicate that impact occurred while they were walking “in the roadway”.
    • Had the walkers been facing traffic, as is the correct way when forced to walk along a roadway, this may very well not have happened.
    • Had they been wearing reflective vests, hats or belts, this may not have happened.
    • Had they been wearing or carrying flashlights or wearing a light like that worn by bicycle riders, this may not have happened.
    • Had they been walking well of the roadway, this may not have happened.

    Parents and those who walk along our roadways please take heed of this tragedy and learn from the mistakes made here. Many roadways throughout Flagler County do not have sidewalks, and there are a number of reasons for that. I am sorry if it sounds cold, but the lack of a sidewalk does not absolve pedestrians from being responsible for the results of dangerous behavior.

  9. Florida voter says:

    Some of the comments on this page sicken me. I can actually feel bile rising in my throat.

    Let me be clear: if you’re driving a car, it is your responsibility to not kill people. You cannot aim for them just because they are waling in your lane.
    @Vet: your comments show that you cannot drive safely at night. Please stay off the roads when it’s dark..
    @A Concerned Observer: You missed the most important bullet point:
    • Had Torres been paying attention to the road in front of her, this would not have happened.

    I’ll say it again, in all caps this time:

  10. Dave says:

    I wonder how many of our children must die before the city does something? Or should we keep putting money into City Halls and police stations? All we are asking is for lights and sidewalks why is that such a hard thing to do when you will be saving children’s lives?

  11. Mary Fusco says:

    Florida Voter, I understand what you are saying. I don’t think any driver would intentionally aim for someone walking because they were walking in their lane. Yes, drivers are responsible for keeping their eye on the road ahead of them. Walkers also have the responsibility of wearing some sort of reflective clothing or carrying a flashlight AND walking facing traffic. I have witnessed people (both very old and very young) walking who absolutely refuse to move over and I have had to stop and wait for oncoming traffic to pass. I live on Wynnfield and cars absolutely fly by my house night and day. Drivers need to put their cell phones OFF and AWAY and turn their radio down while driving and not worry about changing a station, changing CD’s or lighting up a cigarette or eating. Walkers need to know that they are no match for a car and act accordingly.

  12. The Geode says:

    Why don’t we just put paths, street lights, round-a-bouts and stoplights on EVERY section of road in Palm Coast? Even IF they did, people will still complain. Accidents happen (unless the driver went off the road and killed somebody)

  13. Trailer Bob says:

    Very sad, but even worse that the father cannot rest and is causing himself so much stress and pain. Not only one person failed to protect themself by thinking about safety, but both did so. Why on earth would one want to walk with the oncoming traffic at their back, even in the daylight? Who would not turn around when they heard a car approaching from the rear to make sure the don’t get hit? Fact is, when you are walking in the street at night, to the walker, it seems that the driver of the car should be able to see you from the car lights illumination. However, when you are the driver on a dark night and on an unlit street, it is VERY difficult to see someone ahead, other then if they were walking almost in the middle of the street. Sad all the way around for everyone. RIP Michelle.

  14. Really says:

    Sad and partly due to Counties inept Elected Officials

  15. Vet says:

    Florida Voter… um no even going 2 mph you still won’t see someone until you get right on them. Hey here’s a thought don’t blame the city for not teaching kids to not walk in the road at night!

  16. John Brady says:

    Residents had long asked for lights on Lakeview as elsewhere in frequently obscure, pathless Palm Coast, a city that for years paid more attention to the beauty of its medians, frills at its parks or $10 million perks of its own, as when it built City Hall with ready money, before more directly addressing the safety of pedestrians on pathless and lightless streets

    Oh, where have I heard this before, no wait for it, oh I have been saying this since I ran for Mayor. Stop building monuments and start with the maintenance. Stop spending 1.6 m to reduce traffic flow on Whiteview and put in street lights, fix the roads, fix the walking paths, maintain the swales.

    The choice for maintenance, needs vs.wants in Novemeber is Howells and Tipton.

  17. Dave says:

    At this point, after all the public outcry, I wonder if this family has grounds to sue the city for negligence. The city has had plenty of time since its beginning to put in the standard minimum proper safety precautions for its residents but instead spends millions on beautification and shade sails. You have failed us once again and now blood is on your hands.

  18. Wiz says:

    It’s nice to see everyone that was there post their side of the story. Oh wait… none of you were. You all sound so foolish blaming the driver.

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