13 years after man lost leg in crash with Orange County van, state approves $750K payout: ‘Some light at the end of the tunnel now’


Originally Published June 7, 2019

Robert Allan Smith spent his day off doing what he loved: Tinkering with his motorcycle.

He took it out for a test ride, pulling out of his driveway onto DePauw Avenue. He saw an Orange County work van approaching the intersection.

He thought the van’s driver saw him. Then, he was hit. It was Sept. 7, 2006.

Almost 13 years later, on May 23, the Florida Legislature approved a claim bill awarding Smith $750,000 from Orange County as compensation for his injuries in the motorcycle accident — including the loss of his right leg.

“It’s just been a long road. Thirteen years,” Smith said. “I lost my leg when I was 32 and young and active. I played sports, enjoyed cycling, hiking, rock climbing and all that changed instantly.”

Smith sued Orange County after the crash and, in 2012, a jury awarded him more than $4.8 million, including about $1.75 million for his suffering, $2.4 million for future medical expenses and nearly $689,000 in lost wages. But state limits on civil judgments against government entities meant he’d never see that amount.

Years of negotiating with the county resulted in the final settlement approved by state lawmakers last month.

“It’s good to see some light at the end of the tunnel now,” Smith said.

Crash predated camera system

On that day in 2006, the county maintenance worker driving the van, Lynn Godden, failed to make a complete stop at a stop sign and crossed directly into Smith’s path. Godden told investigators he saw Smith but mistakenly thought the motorcyclist was heading away from him.

Smith suffered a fractured leg, a broken pelvis and sacrum and damaged internal organs. He underwent multiple surgeries, including an above-the-knee amputation of his right leg.

He filed suit against the Orange County Board of Commissioners, claiming his accident was a result of Godden’s negligent driving.

Orange County Risk Manager John Petrelli wrote in an email to the Sentinel there were mitigating factors in the crash, though he didn’t elaborate. Since before the crash, Petrelli said the county has required employees to take driver education training every three years.

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In 2007, the county started testing the DriveCam program, which is designed to change driving behavior and improve accident accountability by allowing management to monitor county drivers with cameras in the cars. The program was formally implemented in 2008.

Today, the cameras are installed in 1,655 of the county’s 2,200 vehicles, including vehicles from code enforcement, animal services and fire-rescue, according to a fact sheet provided by Petrelli, who said the county has invested about $2.2 million in the system.

Petrelli estimates the DriveCam system has saved the county about $1.3 million in the past three years by reducing accidents. As of 2008, county vehicles were averaging 200 accidents per year, but by the fiscal year 2017-2018, the average had fallen to under 100 accidents, he said.

But the technology came too late to help in Smith’s case.

The accident upended Smith’s life, said his attorney David Moffett. He couldn’t go back to work at Harley Davidson, a job he had just started before the accident, and is now in a wheelchair. 

Smith, a U.S. Army veteran, was financially supported by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Moffett said, helping pay for medical expenses and his education at Full Sail University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree and graduated at the top of his class.

Claim bills rarely approved

Moffett said suing a government entity, like Orange County, is a long and difficult process that often doesn’t deliver desired results.

In Florida, to get a monetary judgment from a government agency above a certain amount, the suit must first go through a jury trial, then the Florida Legislature must pass a claim bill, instructing the agency to pay the award.

But many claim bills don’t pass in Tallahassee — especially if the case is unsettled, meaning the agency is opposed to paying. In Smith’s case, it took three years for the bill to pass, after the price was negotiated with Orange County.

“Rob and I are so thankful for Orange County for no longer opposing the claim bill and moving toward a compromise,” Moffett said

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He added that many claims never make it to Tallahassee, because lawyers will accept the sovereign immunity cap — the maximum amount of money government agencies can be required pay for a claim without needing authorization from the Legislature.

At the time of Smith’s accident, the cap in Florida was $100,000.

Petrelli said the only other claim bills from Orange County that have been approved in the past 10 years were linked to a notorious witness-murder plot in 2012.

That September, Bessman Okafor, a defendant in an Ocoee home-invasion case, shot three people – two of them witnesses in the case pending against him – during a second invasion at the same home. The family of Alex Zaldivar, a 19-year-old who was killed, received a claim bill of $200,000, while two surviving victims, siblings Brienna and Remington Campos, each got $100,000.

Okafor was being monitored by a county run home-confinement program at the time of the second attack, but had numerous curfew violations that were not reported to the judge in his case.

Smith now lives in Lakeland and works as a graphic designer. 

The claims bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Victor Torres, said he was “elated” to see the approval of Smith’s compensation.

“Deep in my heart I’m glad we were able to get over the finish line and help him,” said Torres, D-Kissimmee. "It was a tragic accident that should have been settled many moons ago.”

Lauren Book, Kristin Jacobs Applaud Progress Toward New South Florida Reservoir


Originally Published June 8, 2019

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill authorizing future operations of a new South Florida reservoir.

The facility will be one of two that limits discharges from Lake Okeechobee and help curb blue-green algal blooms.

“The importance of this historic measure cannot be overstated as its impact on South Florida water will be felt both in terms of availability of clean drinking water and impacting our environment for the foreseeable future,” said state Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat.

“Everyone involved in making this happen should be thanked for the incredible effort that went into this landmark legislation.”

The legislation (HB 95) ensures the C-51 Reservoir, which has been fully designed and permitted, will allow the South Florida Water Management to capture 35 million gallons a day.

The water currently gets lost to the tide but should be able to be used for later consumptive use once the reservoir comes online. District officials say once the project is fully implemented, the reservoir could store up to 61,000 acre-feet of raw water.

“The C-51 Reservoir project has been a labor of love of mine for more than a decade going back to my time as Commissioner and Mayor of Broward County,” said state Rep. Kristin Jacobs, a Coconut Creek Democrat.

“Literally, hundreds of people and thousands of hours have gone into making this vital water project a reality. I am thankful for everyone who made this a possibility and especially the Governor for seeing it through and ultimately making it the law of Florida.”

Effusive praise from Democrats for the new Republican Governor after DeSantis prioritized South Florida water projects.

But the legislation also follows through on a bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in 2017 authorizing the district to employ two reservoirs to limit discharges of water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers.

The discharges from Lake Okeechobee have frequently triggered blue-green algal blooms. Just such an environmental disaster occurred this last summer, with sludge coating large parts of the Caloosahatchee.

“Our long term fears of saltwater intrusion due to rising seas and population growth can now be properly addressed in a meaningful and impactful way.”

Officials Welcome State Oversight on Rail Service Project


Originally Published June 21, 2019

As Virgin Trains USA prepares to upgrade tracks and railroad crossings for new passenger rail service, Treasure Coast officials are gaining traction in their calls for greater state oversight of the project.

Florida Department of Transportation brass agreed this month to assign a railway administrator to help Treasure Coast officials resolve shortcomings in Virgin Trains’ construction plans for railroad crossing improvements.

Florida Transportation Commission Chairman Rob Howse also said he would try to put Virgin Trains’ design engineers in contact with Treasure Coast public works officials for “engineer to engineer” discussions about safety and construction concerns.

The progress came during a June 6 meeting in St. Lucie County attended by Howse, FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault, FDOT’s Southeast Florida District Secretary Gerry O’Reilly and Treasure Coast government officials.

That’s when officials from St. Lucie, Indian River and Martin counties told the FDOT brass Virgin Trains has yet to submit permit applications for the improvements planned at railroad crossings, county records show.

Virgin Trains anticipates starting construction this year on the Treasure Coast on the track and crossing improvements needed to establish a passenger rail line between Orlando and West Palm Beach by 2022.

Virgin Trains has been offering passenger rail service since last May on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks between Miami and West Palm Beach.

The FECR tracks will be improved between West Palm Beach and Cocoa for the passenger rail extension. New tracks will be constructed along State Road 528 between Cocoa and Orlando International Airport.

Virgin Trains’ goal is to offer 16 round trips per day between Miami and Orlando with a travel time of about three hours as an alternative to frequently congested Interstate 95 and Florida’s Turnpike. FECR will continue running about 20 freight trains per day on the tracks.

Virgin Trains USA Vice President Rusty Roberts told the Indian River County Republican Club on June 6 safety is important and the company is working with local government officials regarding their concerns.

“Operational safety is very important, as we know,” Roberts told more than 100 Republican Club members.

Roberts accused the Indian River County government of suppressing a report by a county consultant who found the track and crossing improvements for the Virgin Trains project would make the rail corridor safer.

“Indian River County commissioned a consulting group to do a study on rail safety and the impact of the Brightline train (Virgin Trains’ previous brand) in Indian River County, asking the question: Is it unsafe for Indian River County,” Roberts said. “That study concluded that the corridor will actually be safer after the train starts running through Indian River County.”

“It also concluded – with the improvements being done at the crossings and the addition of a second track which allows for the free flow of trains – the number of minutes the gates are down in a 24-hour period with 32 Brightline trains plus the freight would be five minutes less than it is today,” Roberts said. Nearly every railroad crossing on the Treasure Coast will be equipped with four railroad gates and a center median to stop traffic in both directions and prevent motorists from going around the gates, Roberts said.

Virgin Trains will also establish a safety education program in schools and neighborhoods near the train tracks to teach children to stay away from the tracks, Roberts said.

Indian River County is appealing the dismissal of its federal lawsuit challenging the Federal Railroad Administration approval of the Virgin Trains project. The county also filed a state lawsuit asking a judge to rule the county no longer must pay for the maintenance and repairs of railroad crossings under longstanding agreements with FECR.

On June 4, Indian River County provided FDOT with a list of 12 “major deficiencies and concerns” about Virgin Trains’ Feb. 13 construction plans for the county’s railroad crossings. The plans “showed a lack of detail for pedestrian crossings, conflicting design information between plan sheets, disregard for public safety and a general lack of consistency throughout the plans,” said county Publics Works Director Richard Szpyrka in a letter to FDOT.

So far, Virgin Trains has not responded to county officials about their concerns dating back to August 2016, Szprka’s letter said.

It will require close coordination between Virgin Trains and county officials to design the railroad crossings to minimize traffic congestion on roads near the tracks when trains are rolling through, Szprka said.

Traffic signals at intersections near the tracks must be interconnected with the railroad warning system so vehicles don’t get trapped on the tracks when the crossing gates come down, Szprka said.

Additional safety measures will be needed at railroad crossings because the construction of a second track will allow trains to approach from two different directions and may cause issues with the gates, Szprka said.

State Sen. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart), whose district includes part of St. Lucie County, said she too has concerns about the safety of Virgin Trains passenger rail, particularly in downtown Stuart. Harrell said she also wants FDOT to take a bigger role in regulating the project.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Debbie Mayfield (R-Vero Beach) has requested a meeting with Gov. Ron DeSantis to discuss having FDOT take a greater role in regulating higher speed trains (80-110 mph) like Virgin Trains.

Triathlete was killed on the busway. Bill compels Miami-Dade to pay $1.45 million.

State law limits how much a government can pay in a lawsuit.

But on Wednesday, the Florida Senate voted to give final approval to a bill that compels Miami-Dade County commissioners to pay $1.45 million to the estate of Eric Scott Tenner.

The bill passed the Senate 34-2, with Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City, and Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville opposed.

The claim bill also passed the House 111-3 on April 11. House Representatives opposing were Mike Beltran, R-District 57; Cary Pigman, R-District 55; and Rene Plasencia, R-District 50.

The next step is for Gov. Ron DeSantis to sign the bill. 

The additional $1.45 million sought by Senate Bill 6513, which was sponsored by Rep.. Daniel Perez, whose 116th House District includes parts of Miami-Dade, is a part of a $1.75 million settlement between the county and Tenner’s estate.

Miami-Dade already paid $300,000 but needed the legislative approval to pay the total.

According to a special master’s report released by the House in March, Tenner, a husband and father of two sons — then 8 and 9 — was riding his bicycle on the busway that runs parallel to South Dixie Highway when a Miami-Dade County transit bus ran him over from behind on Oct. 2, 2014. 

Biking on the busway is prohibited, but there is a designated path for cyclists and pedestrians on the west side of the busway. Though Tenner was on the roadway and “illegally biking on the busway,” the court ruled that the bus driver had “a duty to use reasonable care to prevent injuring persons within the vehicle’s path.”

The flashing light on the rear of Tenner’s bike was still operating when rescue crews and officers arrived.

Tenner was training for a triathlon at the time. He died at Kendall Regional Hospital three days after the crash. He was 45.

“The driver of the bus, Jose Sequeira, did not stop after hitting Mr. Tenner but instead continued on his route,” the report said. A bus driver who was tailing Sequeira’s bus saw the crash and radioed Sequeira to return to the scene.

Anfield Consulting posts $2.4M in 2018 earnings

Published // February 21, 2019


Tallahassee consulting shop Anfield Consulting finished strong last year, clearing $2.4 million lobbying the state government.

Managing partner Albert Balido and lobbyists Frank BernardinoEdgar Fernandez and Stephen Pepper Uchino juggled the needs of 46 clients in 2018, reeling in an estimated $1.8 million lobbying lawmakers and $560,000 lobbying the Governor and Cabinet.

That total includes a $590,000 haul for the last three months of the year — $440,000 via legislative lobbying and another $150,000 via executive branch lobbying.

Florida lobbyists report their earnings from each principal in ranges covering $10,000 increments. Florida Politics uses the median dollar amount in each range to estimate earnings.

The sum of their four 2018 reports shows the Indian River County Board of County Commissioners was their top overall client. The governing body contributed $100,000 to their annual total for help in the Legislature, with another $60,000 paid for executive lobbying.

Looking only at Anfield’s legislative reports, Parsons Brinckerhoff (formerly known as WSP) was their top paid contract by a mile with $140,000 paid, though the global engineering firm wasn’t among the team’s executive clients.

There were two other principals who broke the century mark: California-based Renew Financial and West Palm Beach-based Florida Crystals Corporation. The former chipped in $130,000 for the year while the firm reeled in $120,000 from the latter.

The quadriga’s new earnings reports shows significant quarter-over-quarter growth when comared to their $555,000 performance in Q3.

Their best quarter in 2018 was the first, thought that’s consistent with most other lobbying firms since the January through March reported period covered the whole of the 2018 Legislative Session.

Adding up the max compensation figures for each of Anfield’s 45 legislaitve and 46 executive contracts shows the firm could have earned as much as $4.6 million in 2018.

Labor Day is brought to you by these Florida lobbyists and political associations

The statewide association represents more than 140,000 teachers and school support professionals in the state. While Florida teachers are shaping the minds of young Floridians, Ronald BilbaoCatherine BoehmeTina DunbarLuke FlyntFedrick IngramJoanne McCallSharon NesvigEric RileyLynda RussellJacqueline SistoKevin Watson, and Jeff Wright are watching out for Florida’s teachers.

And when the FEA needs an extra hand, it turns to Albert Balido with Anfield Consulting and Ron Meyer at Florida Legislative Associates.

Anfield Consulting collects $655K in first quarter

The firm’s new legislative and executive lobbying reports, filed last week, each show 42 clients with the bulk of those earnings coming in through its efforts before the Legislature — using median compensation numbers, Anfield showed $505,000 in legislative earnings and $150,000 in the executive. The split shifts to $660,000 on the legislative side and $290,000 on the executive side at the top end.

Aging water infrastructure could cost state billions to repair

“Everybody in this room and everybody that works with everyone (in this room) knows we have a problem,” said Bernardino during the 2016 Associated Industries of Florida Water Forum. “As someone who is an advocate, I don’t have to go to any member to convince them we have issues. So why is it from year-to-year we make small progress toward the goal, but we don’t manage to get there.”

State budget includes $500K for Flagler Beach wastewater plant

“Flagler Beach is extremely appreciative of Rep. Renner and Sen. Hutson for getting this where it is,” Newsom said during an interview Tuesday.

During the recently concluded legislative session, Newsom traveled to Tallahassee three times to meet with Renner, Hutson, Gov. Rick Scott’s staff and the city’s lobbyist, Anfield Consulting Group.

Personnel note: Anfield Consulting adds Miami-Dade water expert Edgar Fernandez

Fernandez brings more than 25 years of legislative experience, including 16 years with Miami-Dade County. His most recent role was as senior assistant overseeing policy and governmental affairs for the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department.