9 Investigates delayed trooper response-time after accidents

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ORLANDO, Fla. - 9 Investigates discovered a chronic shortage of state troopers is forcing some accident victims to wait hours for help on central Florida’s roads.

Channel 9's Mario Boone went digging to find out why there are fewer Florida Highway Patrol troopers in the Orlando area and asked what's being done to fix the problem.

But first he found crash victim Shelby Silva waiting alongside the road for an FHP trooper to arrive. By the time Boone found her, she already had waited an hour for a trooper to arrive on the scene.

“I'm frustrated,” Silva said. “I'm mad.”

And she's not alone.

"We have been seeing waits up to six hours," said FHP Sgt. Kim Montes.

And the reason is this: While FHP's Orlando-based Troop D is among the busiest statewide, it's also the most understaffed, according to Montes. In fact, she told Boone it’s down by 44 troopers.

“That's been one of the highest vacancy rates in the last 20 years,” Montes said.

The chronic shortage immediately raised concerns among some that area highways and interstates are less safe, but Montes disputes such claims.

“We want to assure the public there is no public safety issue right now,” she said.

Yet Montes admitted the shortage is slowing traffic homicide investigations -- and crash response times.

“That's ridiculous, sir,” said Silva, who ended up leaving her crash scene before a trooper arrived.

Boone checked the numbers, and since January, he found that 19 new troopers have been hired at Troop D, but he also discovered 22 others have transferred or resigned from Troop D during the same period.

Meanwhile, another 12 were promoted or retired.

Recently, 10 more troopers left.

“We're losing them to other agencies due to pay,” Montes explained.

A trooper’s starting salary is a little more than $30,000 per year. That includes a recent 5 percent raise statewide, but central Florida troopers still rank among the lowest paid compared to those in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Why? It’s because troopers in those cities get a cost of living boost worth $5,000 extra per year. In Orlando, they do not.

State Rep. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, thinks it's time for that to change.

“That has not been reviewed for over a decade, and we really need to go back and look at that,” Stewart told Boone.

The shortage in Troop D accounts for about 18 percent of all troopers that are supposed to be on Central Florida roads.

FHP has temporarily banned transfers from Troop D until the vacancies can be reduced.