LAKEWOOD RANCH — Just a few miles from where Mark Wandall, 30, died in a 2003 traffic crash, Gov. Charlie Crist ceremonially signed a bill Tuesday designed to prevent others from dying in accidents caused by red-light runners.
The fatal crash on State Road 70 at the entrance to Tara might have become a tragedy that forever shatters a family, except that Melissa Wandall, who was nine months pregnant at the time, refused to settle for that depressing possibility.
“This is not the life we would have chosen,” she told law enforcement officers and elected officials who gathered for the ceremony.
Instead, she chose to fight for the passage of a bill designed to deter red light runners through the use of surveillance cameras. She waged that fight for five years, picking up the key support of Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, and others along the way.
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On Tuesday, with her daughter, Madison, now six, Wandall watched Crist sign a copy of the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act.
Crist thanked her for her “tremendous courage” in working so hard to get the bill adopted. “You don’t have to be a member of the House or the Senate, or be the governor to get something done,” Crist said.
For Wandall, her feelings ran strongly toward gratitude for those who helped ensure that Mark Wandall’s name is remembered not just as a victim, but “for love, for grace and for safety.”
To her late husband, Wandall said, “Mark, I love you. I will never love you less than the day I married you.”
Sarasota resident Bud Wandall, the father of Mark Wandall, said watching the bill fitfully work its way through the Legislature was never as frustrating as a year ago when it failed in the dying hours of the legislative session.
“No one should have to bury a child,” Bud Wandall said. “Melissa has made the best of a real bad situation.”
Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube said he strongly supports the bill.
“For five years, it’s never been about Big Brother or the money. It’s been about public safety,” Steube said.
Wandall had warm words for Reagan, who sponsored the bill in the Legislature and Neil Spirtas, of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, who marshaled local support for the act.
“He’s seen the best of me and he’s seen the worst of me,” Wandall said of her close collaboration with Reagan. “He stood by me and guided me and taught me to trust the system.”
Wandall also had words of praise for Crist, who shrugged off a call to veto the bill by the AAA Club South, which criticized it as being more about the money the cameras would generate than public safety.
“Gov. Crist, this is an honor for you to be here today. We’re grateful to you,” Wandall said.
She closed with a quote from Mother Teresa: “In these times of development, the whole world runs and is hurried. But there are some who fall down on the way and have no strength to go ahead. These are the ones we must care about.”
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at (941) 745-7021.