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2 islanders killed in 3 days by cars swerving off A1A


Two fatalities in less than three days caused by autos swerving off State Road A1A – one killing a bicyclist, the other running down a man walking his dog – have intensified demands for reduced speed limits and more safety devices on the heavily traveled island thoroughfare

It was mid-morning on Saturday, May 29 when the first death occurred. John’s Island resident Carl Cutler, 63, a retired investment banker and accomplished athlete, was riding his bike on North A1A near the Pelican Island Wildlife Sanctuary when a 49-year-old Melbourne man driving a red Nissan sedan swerved off the road onto the right shoulder and struck him. Both men were traveling north.

The following Monday evening, Memorial Day, Michael Gianfrancesco, 57, and his dog, Molly, were walking on the grass shoulder on the east side of South A1A near the Dunes subdivision where he lived when they were struck and killed instantly by a northbound Chevy Impala traveling at high speed that veered off the road.

Florida Department of Transportation District 4 Operations Engineer Mark Plass said the vehicle in Saturday’s fatal bicycle incident was traveling 45 mph in a 50-mph zone. But law enforcement said the vehicle that struck and killed Gianfrancesco and Molly on Memorial Day was going over 100 mph.

No arrests have been made yet in either case and police have not released the names of the drivers, both of whom remained on scene until police arrived.

Both accidents remain under investigation by the Florida Highway Patrol, according to Sheriff’s office spokesperson Debbie Carson, who said the FHP has jurisdiction because the accidents occurred on a state road. 

Asked why an arrest wasn’t made immediately in the south island case, where obvious excessive speed and a fatality were involved, Carson said arrests aren’t typically made until a full investigation is completed, which can take up to 120 days. The Florida Highway Patrol did not respond to numerous calls and messages.

Island resident Jose Lambiet, who lives on Treasure Cove Lane just south of the site of the Memorial Day accident, said one of his neighbors had returned from a bike ride “minutes before the crash, all flustered because she said she had seen ‘dozens of souped-up cars’ traveling north on A1A in an aggressive manner, passing each other like a drag race. She was afraid she was going to be hit.”

A Big Three Muscle Car Show had taken place in Fort Pierce over the Memorial Day weekend, with the usual large crowd, food, drink and music, but the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office said it was not aware of any participants racing on the island after the show ended.

North island residents say the 50-mile-an-hour speed limit posted in the area where Cutler was killed on his bike is too high – both for safety and state law.

In fact, Florida Statute 316.183 states that “the maximum speed limits for all vehicles must be 30 miles per hour in business or residence districts,” and much of the north island is zoned residential.

While not addressing the statute specifically, Plass acknowledged that “we are aware of the issues in the 13000 block of A1A,” and have spoken to concerned residents about the speed limit.

“We do have an ongoing study” to determine if the speed limit is too high, Plass added. “We’re looking at a variety of different aspects, including speed-crash history” before “reaching some conclusions and making a recommendation.”

Additional information about the study should be released within a couple of weeks, Plass said.

Orchid Town Manager Noah Powers agrees there are safety issues on north A1A, especially at the intersection of A1A and Orchid Island Drive, where there are no safety crossing devices for residents and guests going to and from the Orchid Island Beach Club.

Powers has been communicating with FDOT for over a year, “trying to get some kind of signalization at this intersection,” but has been told there is not sufficient traffic to warrant such action.

“This is a busy intersection and without the presence of any safety devices it poses great risk,” said Powers. “I believe we have been extremely fortunate to have avoided tragedy at this intersection.”