Speed limit lowered on U.S. 1 in the Keys where four Spanish tourists were killed

This motor home has damage to its front end and windshield from Monday’s crash. Four people died in the crash, which happened in Islamorada.
This motor home has damage to its front end and windshield from Monday’s crash. Four people died in the crash, which happened in Islamorada. WLRN

The Florida Department of Transportation compromised with Monroe County's sheriff this week and agreed to lower the speed limit on U.S. 1 in Islamorada, where four Spanish tourists were killed in a vehicle crash in early March.

The agency initially rejected Sheriff Rick Ramsay's request outright to reduce the speed limit from 55 mph to 45 mph from mile marker 78 to mile marker 80. The agency based its decision on recommendations from traffic engineers sent to the Keys following the March 5 crash at Ramsay's request.

But Ramsay called Jim Wolfe, FDOT District 6 secretary, and said he "is not happy with the findings," he said Friday. On Thursday, Wolfe sent Ramsay a letter stating the agency will "meet us in the middle," Ramsay said. The speed limit in that area will be lowered to 50 mph.

"We spoke this morning about my letter of April 24, Wolfe wrote to Ramsay. "You stressed your conclusion that a reduction in speed limit from 55 mph to 45 mph should be instituted between MM 78 and MM 80. I have reviewed this with staff and we believe it would be prudent to reduce the speed limit for this section to 50 mph."

The signs indicating the new speed limit will be posted within 30 days, Wolfe wrote in his April 26 letter to Ramsay.

"It's not what I asked for, but I appreciate him taking a second look," Ramsay said. "We hope it makes it a little bit safer."

News of the deaths of the four young Spanish women received international coverage. They were vacationing in South Florida and the Florida Keys from various parts of Spain. Margarita Cortes-Pardo, 31, was from Illes Balears, Spain; Maria Lopez-Bermejo Rossello, 31, and Teresa Sanchez Quetglas, 30, were both from Mallorca, Spain; and Ana Gaitan Diaz, 31, lived in Cordoba, Spain.

The afternoon crash happened at the northern end of Tea Table Bridge near mile marker 80 of U.S. 1.

Cortes-Pardo was driving a 2018 Nissan Rogue north on U.S. 1 and stopped to make a left-hand turn. When she did, an Isuzu truck driven by Carlos Manso Blanco, 30, from Marathon hit the vehicle from behind, pushing it into the southbound lane.

A 2016 Allegro motor home driven by Daniel Pinkerton, 62, from Alaska was traveling south and hit the right side of the car, pushing it southbound, where it collided with a tree on the side of the road, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

The Rogue was so mangled that for the initial few hours first responders were on the scene following the crash, they thought there were three victims. It wasn’t until firefighters began cutting open the vehicle later in the evening that they found the fourth victim.

At the time, the Florida Highway Patrol said charges against Blanco were pending, but Monroe County Clerk of the Court records do not show any have been filed. FHP officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The day after the crash, Ramsay contacted FDOT urging the agency to reduce the speed limit in the area and to make it a no-passing zone. He called it "the deadliest two-mile stretch in the Florida Keys."

Much of what makes the area so dangerous is its popularity with tourists, weekenders and locals who enjoy the water. It is a common area for people to pull over there to swim, fish, kayak, barbecue and take photographs. There are also several boat ramps in the area.

Wolfe stated in his original April 24 letter that FDOT's study of the area showed there were 21 crashes there between 2011 and 2015. Eight were rear-end collisions and none fatal.

A compromise was also reached regarding Ramsay's request to make that entire stretch a no-passing zone. FDOT agreed instead to extend the no-passing zone that exists at the north end of Indian Key Channel Bridge by about 150 feet. There will also be "Do Not Pass" and "No Passing Zone" signs installed at the south end of the bridge, Wolfe stated in his letter.