The driver who hit a woman and her teenage daughter crossing San Jose Boulevard on Friday night is the same man who struck and killed a 6-year-old girl in an intersection a few blocks away in 2009.
The Florida Highway Patrol said Michael Fortunato, 66, was driving the Toyota Camry that stuck Esther Ohayon, 57, and her 16-year-old daughter, Orly, who were walking to Yom Kippur services at the Etz Chaim Synagogue just before 8 p.m. Friday.
The mother died and the scene and the teen was hospitalized at UF Health in Jacksonville in critical but stable condition. Fortunato told troopers he didn't see them in the crosswalk at first, and when he did, he didn't have enough time to stop.
The FHP said they were investigating whether Fortunato had a green or red light at the intersection and a blood alcohol test was conducted. The only violation troopers have confirmed so far in Friday night's fatality is that Fortunato was driving with an expired license.
Channel 4’s Safety Expert, Ken Jefferson took a look at what some are calling a very dangerous intersection.
“You can’t be guaranteed there’s no traffic, but what you want to watch out for is this car making a right turn,” explained Ken Jefferson.
Fortunato told Florida Highway Patrol troopers that he didn’t see the mother and daughter as they headed to their synagogue.
“Those are a lot of reasons or excuses people give, or someone driving improperly. What you have to remember is everyone has to look out for each other. Driver has to look out for pedestrian, pedestrian has to look out for the driver,” said Jefferson.
While our cameras were out on San Jose, Channel 4 found numerous jaywalkers on San Jose boulevard. People were walking across the busy street without bothering to use the crosswalks.
“It’s a big problem. You’ve got three lanes of traffic. You’ve got people not willing to go to crosswalk to change in their favor. A lot of times they’re darting through traffic on first or second lane, but third may not even see them,” said Jefferson.
Monday morning, Channel 4 confirmed that Fortunato is the same driver who hit, killed 6-year-old Kaitlyn Springer, who was trying to cross San Jose Boulevard at Kori Road with her mom and brother four years ago. He was not cited in the Dec. 19, 2009, crash as the investigation determined the Springer family were crossing against the light.
The mother, Nora Springer, sued the city of Jacksonville, Florida Department of Transportation and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, claiming that the crosswalk light timing system was faulty. Her attorney, Rick Block, eventually withdrew from the case, but Springer continued to to pursue the case until the suit was dismissed earlier this year.
A check of driving records shows Fortunato has 23 moving violations in Florida going back to 1996. These include nine for speeding, four from driving with a suspended or revoked license and three for failing to stop for a red light or stop sign.
"I'm not certain if the system has failed or if he has not accumulated enough points to have his driver's license suspended or have it revoked, but this is someone that does not need to have a driver's license and have the privilege of driving on the road," said Jefferson.
Fortunato has a court date Tuesday on an April 2013 citation for failing to stop for a red light.
"It was shocking to be honest," FHP Sgt. Dylan Bryan said. "Typically you don't find a situation like that on the roadside. Although, the Florida Highway Patrol does have repeat customers that we run into as we enforce the traffic laws of our state. But I don't recall any other circumstance where it was something of this magnitude."
Jewish community shaken
A small bouquet of flowers sits near the crosswalk at San Jose Boulevard and Hayley Road, near where the Ohayons were struck and the entrance to the synagogue where Esther Ohayon worked as a preschool teacher.
Friends say Ohayon's body was flown to Israel for the burial that is likely to take place on Tuesday.
The Rabbi at the Synagogue where the Ohayon’s were walking told Channel 4 that he’s complained about the intersection being too dangerous. Jefferson said people who live or work near a dangerous intersection should complain.
“You can go to City Council meetings and bring these things to their attention, simply because they represent you, you live in the neighborhood,” said Jefferson.
A woman who lives nearby agreed that the crosswalk is dangerous.
"I was shocked to know that it was somebody we knew that that had happened to. I wasn't totally surprised because there is a lot of pedestrian traffic on a really busy road."
Ohayon's colleagues at the Jacksonville Jewish Center told Channel 4 she was a beloved preschool teacher and released the following statement:
"There are no words to describe the loss of a teacher as sweet and beloved as Miss Esther, and a world where a child as kind and loving as Orly must endure such tragedy. The shock has not yet worn off and the sorrow is only beginning."