Lives forever changed Sunday night when a 20-year-old Pensacola woman accidentally struck and killed a pedestrian on U.S. 29.
Escambia County deputies are conducting outreach to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.
The Escambia County Sheriff's Office has been conducting high-visibility enforcement details since September in different locations throughout the county to educate drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists on traffic safety.
"A lot of times, they're crossing the road and not using a crosswalk or wearing reflective clothing or what can be seen at night," said Lt. Patrick Frazier.
The conditions were dark at 8 p.m. Sunday when the woman was struck by a sedan traveling south in the inside lane. The accident occurred at Van Pelt Lane, according to Florida Highway Patrol, an intersection without traffic control devices or a crosswalk.
Frazier said the ECSO received $45,055 in grant funding through a contract with the University of North Florida in partnership with the Florida Department of Transportation's focused initiative to increase awareness and compliance with traffic laws. The funding pays overtime for officers to conduct the details and covers educational materials and bicycle light installations.
Mike Lewis, the traffic safety programs manager with FDOT, said the intention of the details is to raise awareness of personal safety at the most dangerous times and locations, as reflected by crash data.
A tragic accident: Pedestrian dies after being struck by a vehicle while trying to cross US 29
"If we can find patterns, we'll target those days and times," Lewis said.
Out of 67 counties, Escambia received the funding because it falls in the top 25 counties in the state for pedestrian incidents. Out of the Panhandle, Escambia, Bay and Leon counties present the most room for improvement when it comes to serious and fatal injuries.
"One of the things we've been doing in Escambia County is looking at lighting projects," Lewis said.
One tragedy that brought lack of lighting to the forefront was the hit-and-run crash in which Markquise Wallace struck three pedestrians on West Cervantes Street in June 2018.
Nephateria Williams, 28, and 8-month-old Neariaah Williams perished, while Quineka Baldwin sustained injuries when Wallace drove erratically at a high speed as the women were attempting to cross the street.
The crash sparked public discussion on the deficiency of lighting in the surrounding area.
"We're very sensitive to that case," Lewis said. "We were actually working on expediting lighting when that happened and had lighting up within a month."
There were 5,952 bicycle crashes in the state in 2020, of which 169 were fatal, according to Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. There were 715 fatalities among 8,117 pedestrian crashes that same year.
West Jackson Street study: Experts to study how to improve West Jackson Street as Cervantes project diverts traffic
Seventeen people died out of 138 pedestrian crashes in Escambia in 2020. The county had 89 bicycle crashes that year, with two of them being fatal.
Lewis said reduced mobility during the pandemic in 2020 brought total traffic crashes down by 20% from 2019, but fatal crashes were up slightly by about 3%.
"One of the things that happened in the COVID-19 year is that since there were more people teleworking, the roads were wide open and (drivers) were getting in more severe high-speed crashes," he said.
Lewis said seatbelt use is also down, meaning more crashes were fatal when they could have just been injuries.
"We're really trying to understand it," Lewis said. "We try to read the narrative within the crash reports."
There are a few simple things people can remember to increase their safety on the streets. Pedestrians should walk against traffic, bicyclists should go with traffic and bikes should always have lights on them.
Frazier said the high visibility detail that will continue through mid-May is not about issuing citations as much as it is making a connection with residents that will help them stay safer.
In October, Frazier met a woman out walking whose son was killed in a pedestrian accident in the same location they were performing the detail on Davis Highway at Northcross shopping plaza.
"She said, 'I'm glad you guys are here,'" Frazier said.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: ECSO performs high visibility detail to prevent pedestrian tragedies