Four Central Floridians have died in crashes that authorities blame, at least in part, on officers in patrol cars.
Orange County Deputy Malinda Miller was on a routine patrol before dawn Aug. 17, 2010, when she overheard another deputy on the police radio say that he was following a red Chrysler van reported stolen.
Deputy Nicholas Thorpe asked for backup, and Miller, a short distance away, announced that she was en route, according to county records.
She then raced up Magnolia Homes Road toward Thorpe's location in west Orange County at 86 mph. The speed limit was 40. She did not have her lights or siren on.
Ed Soistman, a 91-year-old lay minister at St. John Lutheran Church in Winter Park, had just pulled out of his driveway in Altamonte Springs. He was on his way to the hospital, where he went every morning to pray with the sick and dying.
He paused at the stop sign at Magnolia Homes Road, then turned left. The deputy saw him, steered left but couldn't avoid the crash, according to state records. She plowed into the driver's side of Soistman's car.
"He left his house at 5:30 in the morning every day of his life and went to hospitals to minister to people," his daughter-in-law Jennifer Soistman of Richmond, Va., told the Sentinel in 2010.
Miller was ticketed for speeding and failing to turn on her emergency lights and siren but challenged those, and a judge threw them out. She was fired more than a year later for violating department policy in the crash.
She did not respond to a letter from the Sentinel seeking comment.
In a 2009 interview with the Sentinel about leaving corporate life for the ministry, Ed Soistman recalled being very poor as a child.
"A Lutheran church adopted us and gave us used clothes and food and $5 a week," he said. "I've been so blessed that I want to be a blessing to others."
Arturo Cordero lost control of his Ford Explorer on a curve near Winter Haven on Dec. 30, 2006, and it flipped into a ditch, according to crash records.
The Winter Haven resident had been driving his younger brother Onisimo to work. Neither was seriously hurt, but 27-year-old Arturo climbed back inside to get some papers.
Several other vehicles drove safely past the wreckage, which was off the road. But about 10 minutes later, according to a witness, Polk County Deputy Isaac D. Jackson skidded out of control and slammed into the overturned SUV.
Arturo Cordero was trapped in the wreckage and died.
The crash was investigated by the Polk County Sheriff's Office, Jackson's employer. It concluded that the then-25-year-old deputy was solely to blame, the crash was preventable and he was guilty of careless driving. He was not ticketed, however.
Prosecutors in the State Attorney's Office in Polk County did not charge him, saying the road was dark, it was foggy and the pavement was wet from nearby sprinklers.
Jackson was fired six months later for neglect of duty after a sergeant discovered him asleep in his parked patrol car, the movie "S.W.A.T." playing on his onboard computer, according to Sheriff's Office records.
He did not return phone calls or respond to a letter from the Sentinel.
Every day, Henrietta Strong went for a walk. She often picked up cans, said her daughter, Amie Walker.
On Sept. 6, 2010, Strong was on her morning walk, crossing State Road 520 in Cocoa at about 5:45 a.m. when she was struck and killed by Brevard County Deputy Vincent Marino-Vitani.
"He hit her dead on with the center of his vehicle," Walker said.
Crash investigators found aluminum cans scattered near where the 65-year-old was hit, Walker said.
The deputy was driving carelessly and speeding, going 65 mph in a 40-mph zone, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
He had just started his morning shift, he told crash investigators, and was driving to Merritt Island Mall to meet another deputy and pick up a different gun belt.
He was ticketed for speeding, but a judge later threw out the citation.
FHP placed part of the blame for the crash on Strong, saying she failed to yield. A witness told crash investigators that she had stepped off the median, into Marino-Vitani's path.
Walker does not believe that.
"We just do not believe that our mother would intentionally walk in front of a moving vehicle," she wrote.
Strong's family is now suing Marino-Vitani and has asked FHP to reopen its investigation.
The deputy would not comment.
Catherine Winstead was a 70-year-old breast-cancer survivor, but she could not survive a moment of carelessness by Melbourne Officer Steven Sigety.
Her granddaughter was driving Winstead to her Palm Bay home the night of Feb. 22, 2007, on U.S. Highway 1. Sigety was on the same road.
"He didn't see me, I guess," said Terri George, Winstead's granddaughter and driver. "He ended up making an illegal U-turn right in the middle of the road."
Sigety would later explain that he had looked down at his onboard computer while driving about 40 mph. He had just been dispatched to track down a careless driver.
The resulting crash injured Sigety and two others, including George and a Police Department communications employee riding with the deputy in the patrol car.
Winstead survived for a month in the hospital but died March 22, 2007.
Sigety was ticketed for making an improper lane change, according to crash data. He did not respond to a letter from the Sentinel.
"All he got was a $121.25 ticket," George said.
The state trooper who investigated the crash concluded that Sigety was solely to blame.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times