Four-year-old Ellie Louise Bland was doing what most any little girl would do during a glorious day at Daytona Beach this past Saturday — dashing here and there, playing with her family and soaking in the sunshine and salt air.
It should have been a day for making memories — the kind that inspire crayon drawings and "Guess what I did!" exclamations when the vacation's over.
Except there was nothing inspirational about Ellie's beach day. For it was her last.
A car stuck the preschooler and killed her.
One moment, she was holding her uncle's hand. The next, a Lincoln Town Car driven by a 66-year-old visitor from Georgia ended her life.
Ellie's family must be struggling with the kind of
questions that shake even the most faithful.
But a question we should all be asking ourselves is:
Why does Daytona still allow cars on the beach
The short answer is tradition — and money. It is cheaper for the city to allow cars to drive and park where children play than provide proper parking.
But whatever the rationale, the time for this tradition has passed.
Cars and children do not mix.
Neither do trucks and sunbathers, SUVs and sea turtles, or a clear summer day and exhaust fumes.
"I have always advocated taking cars off the beach," said Volusia County Council member Pat Northey. "As long as we treat our beach like a roadway, we're going to have to face the fact the people are going to get hurt."
But Northey has been outnumbered by those who believe beach-driving is as much a part of Daytona as racing.
Council member Joshua Wagner, for instance, called Ellie's death "tragic" — but stressed that he is still committed to letting people drive by the sea. "People just need to understand it's a road," said the surfer and beach native. "It's just on the sand."
It sounds simple enough when Wagner says it.
Then again, he's not a preschooler.
It's amazing what kind of adult rules and logic can flee the mind of a young child who just discovered a hermit crab and is thrilled at the prospect of showing it off. All of the sudden, a few posts or warning signs don't seem like much of an impediment.
In fact, when my wife and I used to occasionally visit Daytona Beach, we had a tough time relaxing. There was no dozing off on our towels or getting lost in Grisham novel. At least one of us was always on-guard, eyes wide, looking out for our little ones.
We usually opted for beaches we considered more family-friendly. And less dangerous.
And make no mistake: Daytona Beach has been dangerous long before Ellie's death this past weekend.
Last year, a man ran over two teenage girls. In 2006, a 77-year-old man backed over his wife.
A drunk driver killed a wader in 1996. And a Massachusetts woman was killed in 1987.
Really, though, the biggest debates over beach-driving have centered on turtles.
The issue has been debated and litigated for years, since tires can crush the protected animals.
In fact, rules were even passed to prohibit cars from driving where there were too many of them … turtles, that is. Not children.
There is also a simple matter of aesthetics. A Chevy Suburban doesn't enhance any seascape.
Other cities banned beach-driving decades ago for the sake of both people and animals. Cocoa Beach, for instance, decided to stop mixing cars and people back in 1969 … and has managed to continue attracting visitors.
Still, the pro-driving forces in Daytona have always won.
"They think it's a God-given right," Northey said. "Literally, ‘God-given' is the way they describe it."
There's also the cost. It would be pricey for officials to provide off-beach parking after neglecting the need for so long.
And then there are those who support beach-driving as a money-making endeavor, arguing that beach-driving is one of the main reasons people come to town, fill hotels and spend their money.
But if attracting visitors is the goal, perhaps tourism officials in Volusia should spend some time on the Internet. There, they can see headlines from around the world, telling potential visitors what happened last weekend to Ellie
"British girl, 4, killed by car on Florida beach while walking hand-in-hand with uncle ‘after driver panicked,'" read the headline in London's
The piece went on to say that little Ellie was killed one day before she was supposed to visit Disney's Magic Kingdom … and dress up like a princess.
Such stories are sure to make other parents think twice about bringing their own princesses to town.
So, if doing what's right for the sake of safety and the environment wasn't enough of a motivation for leaders in Volusia, perhaps doing right by their own pocketbooks will be.
Scott Maxwell can be reached at