John and Mary Steffen were active in their Ohio hometown. / Special to news-press.com
Questions remain two days after a snowbird couple was killed in a crash with a Lee County deputy.
John and Marilyn Steffen, of Pandora, Ohio, turned onto Palm Beach Boulevard from Mississippi Avenue and into the path of a Lee County Sheriff’s Office cruiser at around 9:30 a.m. Sunday. The cruiser struck the driver’s side of the Steffens’ vehicle, and John, 84, died at the scene. Marilyn, 77, died en route to Lee Memorial Hospital.
The Steffens account for the county’s 26th and 27th road-related fatalities this year.
According to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, the office cannot determine whether the deputy’s siren was activated and cannot release how fast the deputy was traveling when he struck the Steffens. Those details will come out in the Florida Highway Patrol’s investigation, which could take 30-60 days. The FHP said Monday that the specific circumstances associated to the 911 call are being withheld to allow investigators to determine if further probes will be necessary.
Deputy Roberto Torres, 28, was taken to Lee Memorial Hospital with minor injuries following Sunday’s crash, but he had been released by Monday morning. The sheriff’s office said Torres is still on patrol and there is no reason he would be put on administrative leave. The sheriff’s office traffic safety committee, which meets monthly, will review the crash to determine if any disciplinary measures will be taken against Torres. The committee must wait for FHP to complete its investigation.
According to an FHP report, Torres’ patrol vehicle was responding to a 911 call with its emergency lights activated. The report does not say whether the siren was activated.
The sheriff’s office said it does not record when a siren is activated. The only way to tell is through a dashboard camera, which Torres did not have in his vehicle. The cameras are mostly reserved for traffic deputies involved in DUI stops. Torres, who has worked at the sheriff’s office since 2005, is a district patrol deputy.
The sheriff’s office said it has no public record that would show how fast Torres was traveling.
According to sheriff’s office policy, deputies are required to activate emergency equipment (lights and siren) when responding to calls such as life-threatening situations or traffic crashes with injuries. The policy also dictates deputies must follow state statute, which says emergency equipment must be in use when deputies operate vehicles outside of traffic laws. Deputies are permitted to exceed speed limits, but only after considering risks to life and property.
“This statute clearly indicates that drivers of emergency vehicles are not exempt from liability if they fail to use due regard for the safety of all persons,” the statute states.
When responding to calls of a less urgent nature, deputies are supposed to use emergency equipment only when absolutely necessary.
“Use of emergency equipment and other alternative types of approach must be constantly evaluated by the responding officer,” the policy states.
Ted Sigler, owner of Ted’s Market in Pandora, said he last saw the Steffens around Thanksgiving, before they headed to Southwest Florida for the winter. John came into the store for deli products all the time, Sigler said, and the two men talked about motorcycles.
Sigler said as far as he knows, John, who was driving at the time of the crash, did not have any hearing or vision impairments. John was in good mental and physical condition, rode a motorcycle and drove between Ohio and Florida every year, Sigler said.
Sigler said he has a lot of questions about the crash that killed his friends.
“You know how you get one of those low feelings in your gut,” he said, “like I wonder what really happened.”
John and Marilyn were active in Pandora, a community of about 1,200, Sigler said. They played a lot of shuffleboard in the park.
“They (were) always smiling and laughing,” he said.
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