Monroe County’s top law enforcement officer urged the Florida Department of Transportation this week to lower the speed limit on a two-and-a-half-mile stretch of highway in Islamorada where four Spanish tourists were killed in a horrific car crash Monday.
Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay called the portion of U.S. 1 between mile marker 77.5 and mile marker 80, “the deadliest two-mile stretch in the Keys” on Friday, days after the young women — between the ages of 30 and 32 — were crushed inside their 2018 Nissan Rogue Monday afternoon.
The car 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.
“They didn’t even know she was in there,” Ramsay said. “It was horrific.”
Ramsay called FDOT District 6 Secretary Jim Wolfe Tuesday asking him to lower the speed limit on U.S. 1 from Robbie’s Marina to the south, north to Bud N’ Mary’s Marina, from 55 to 45 mph and to prohibit passing.
According to Ramsay, Wolfe, who could not immediately be reached for comment, told the sheriff that the agency would have an answer back to him in 30 days, instead of the standard 90 days “because of the seriousness of the crash.”
Wolfe, Ramsay said, told him engineers need to come to the Keys to conduct a traffic study before making a decision. While Ramsay said he’s pleased with FDOT moving up the process, he said even 30 days is too long.
“This is an easy fix,” he said. “All you need to do is change a few signs and stripe the road.”
Much of what makes that part of U.S. 1 so dangerous is because it is scenic and many people pull over there to swim, fish, kayak, barbecue and take photographs. There are also several boat ramps in the area.
“It’s one of the busiest scenic areas in the Keys,” the sheriff said.
Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Kathleen McKinney, sub-district commander for the Florida Keys, said she agrees with Ramsay.
“We’ve had a couple of serious crashes there,” she said. Lowering the speed limit and prohibiting passing “may reduce some of the problems we’re having there.”
The FHP identified the deceased women Tuesday as Margarita Cortes-Pardo, 31, from Illes Balears, Spain; Maria Lopez-Bermejo Rossello, 31, and Teresa Sanchez Quetglas, 30, both from from Mallorca, Spain; and Ana Gaitan Diaz, 31, from Cordoba, Spain.
The crash happened around 2 p.m. Monday on the northern end of Tea Table Bridge near mile marker 80 of U.S. 1.
Cortes-Pardo was driving the Nissan north on U.S. 1 and stopped to make a left-hand turn. When she did, an Izuzu 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, McKinney said.
Charges are pending in the case following an FHP investigation.
David Goodhue: 305-440-3204