9 Investigates: Deadly crashes prompt safety measures for Alafaya Trail

by: Daralene Jones Updated:

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Two students were killed in separate crashes in the last two months near the University of Central Florida. Their deaths are in addition to the more than a dozen others killed on or near Alafaya Trail, in the last 10 years. 

Officials with Orange County set to make the area safer three years ago, but Channel 9 investigative reporter Daralene Jones learned it will take another three years to see physical change. Family members of those killed in crashes in the area told Eyewitness News that’s frustrating.

William Wieser's brother, Austin Ekern, was killed in a crash in August. Wieser couldn't hold back tears as he tried to describe how he remembers the 20-year-old college student. 

"(He) enjoyed making everyone happy. He didn't like to see anyone sad, kind of hard," Wieser told Jones. 

Ekern was hit by two vehicles in the middle of Alafaya Trail. The driver of the second car didn’t see him in the road, investigators with the Florida Highway Patrol said.

Hearing Wieser talk about his brother's horrific death stirs up raw emotions within Laura Dawkins whose daughter, Brooke Dawkins, was also killed along Alafaya Trail in 2014. 

"It's a lifetime, lifetime grief," Dawkins said. 

Nearly two weeks ago, another family lost a loved one on a road used by 50,000 vehicles a day. It is a primary thoroughfare for University of Central Florida, the second largest university in the nation, with 64,000 students.

"How many more is it going to take before we have lit roads? Makes me think no one cares," Wieser said.

Orange County officials received results of a traffic study from last December that recommended $7 million worth of improvements, which doesn't include right of way acquisition between McCollouch Road and Challenger Parkway. The plan is to construct wider sidewalks, mid-block crossings and pedestrian fencing in the median to discourage jaywalking, in addition to enhanced pedestrian-scale LED lighting. 

The county solicited design bids this month, and the construction isn't scheduled to start until 2020. The planner overseeing the project said it could take a year to complete design work once bids are received and a design firm is selected. 

Kim Rockburn, a realtor who also lives in the area, questions the timeline and why the county isn't considering a flyover she believes would allow for a lower speed limit on Alafaya Trail.

"Everyone is going at least a minimum 50 miles an hour, sometimes 60," Rockburn said. 

The Dawkins family sent an email to the Florida Department of Transportation, which they shared with 9 Investigates, and it reads in part, "As a concerned parent that lost his daughter to a car v. pedestrian in 2014, I have concerns about the speed limit on Alafaya Trail in Orlando. More deaths have occurred since then." 

A spokesperson for the FDOT told 9 Investigates: "The speed limit was lowered from 50 mph to 45 mph from McCulloch Road to Gemini Boulevard by recommendation as part of an engineering study in 2015. The distance covered is .3 miles and makes the speed limit consistent bordering UCF ... Our traffic operations section has documented and logged the request, and will examine if there have been changes that have occurred in traffic flow, overall traffic speed and patterns since the last review of the area, which was done in 2015." 

A spokesperson for Orange County told 9 Investigates that the first phase of work will only include Alafaya Trail between McColloch Road and Research Parkway and University Boulevard from Quadrangle Boulevard to Alafaya Trail. That's because it only has $4 million for work.

"I say we tap into our private resources," Rockburn demanded. 

Meanwhile, families still grieving deaths can only urge others to take caution.

"Use your cellphone as a flashlight. Get to a crosswalk if you can," Wieser said. 

It's a sobering from families holding onto memories they keep close to their hearts.

The Dawkins family has created a legacy for their daughter and has donated five organs of her organs since her death.

"It helps knowing she's helped others, because that's what she was all about," Laura Dawkins said. 

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