ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Two teenage girls run over by an Atlantic Beach city vehicle on the beach May 7 are suing the city.
One girl suffered severe burns and was transferred to the burn unit of UF Health Shands in Gainesville. The other girl suffered multiple fractures, torn ligaments and soft tissue damage to her foot.
According to the police report, Isabella Rodriguez and Jade Shaw were both hit by a pickup truck about 9:50 a.m. at the Oceanwalk entrance to the beach off Seminole Road.
Timothy Thompson, a park ranger for Atlantic Beach, said he got in his pickup truck and made a U-turn on the beach at Seminole Road, then he heard screaming. Residents ran over and pulled the two girls out from under his pickup.
Thompson said the terrain on the beachfront prevented him from seeing the girls. A witness told police the same thing -- that the driver couldn't have seen the girls.
Witnesses and the driver himself called 911.
"I've run over two people out here," Thompson told the operator. "Yes, they are injured."
When told rescue was on the way, Thompson added, "Please, they are in pain."
LISTEN: Park ranger's 911 call
Thompson pleaded not guilty to failure to use due care toward a pedestrian, a civil traffic citation. The fine is $164. Thompson is scheduled to go to trial on the charge at 9 a.m. June 23. He is still employed by Atlantic Beach, a city spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday.
Attorneys for Isabella and Jade said they have served notices of intent to sue Atlantic Beach on behalf of their clients. The notices are required to be filed months before lawsuits can actually be submitted, according to Florida statutes.
Jade, who has bandages on her arms, hands and back, suffered third-degree burns from the heat of the truck.
She spent nine days at UF Health Shands in Gainesville and underwent two surgeries. Her family said she has been out of school for 3½ weeks and has not been able to play volleyball.
She is still in significant pain and has to return to the burn unit Thursday for evaluation.
“She has been very brave and is dealing with this very well. Her mother has been great. Fortunately, she's a very strong and resilient girl from a good family,” Jade's attorney, Curtis Pajcic, said. “We hope that everybody can learn from this, and we can also get the justice that is needed for Jade to help her through this situation.”
Pajcic said Jade's medical bills are huge, and she has a long recovery ahead of her.
"She didn't obviously deserve any of this, and we are hopeful that at least something good, if anything good comes out of this, if they can make the changes appropriate to prevent this from happening to anyone in the future," Pajcic said.
Her mother said some of her daughter's scars will be permanent.
“She is very, very brave. She makes it look easy. We know it will change,” Jade's mother, Isabelle Queniat said. “I think this is inexcusable. And it could have been prevented.”
Pajcic said he hopes her claim will encourage the city of Atlantic Beach to be more careful. He believes there was negligence in the case because the driver did not see the girls and also because the driver was operating his vehicle on the beach. He said there should be more safety procedures in place to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else.
“This wasn't an emergency situation. This was someone out there driving on the beach and just simply failed to see Jade and her friend laying on the beach in an open area there,” Pajcic said. “This is such a terrible thing that happened (that was) so easily preventable. Generally, vehicles aren't allowed on that beach in order to prevent this very type of tragedy.”
Attorney John Phillips, who has represented two women in similar situations, is representing Isabella and her family. He said these types of accidents are actually pretty common, and at least a dozen times a woman has been run over on the beach in Florida.
“The injuries are usually severe. You’ve got a several-thousand-pound vehicle equipped with extra equipment that (is) rolling on top of people in sand. Fortunately they sink in the sand and there has only been one fatality out of the 15 incidents where this has happened in Florida," Phillips said.
A spokeswoman for Atlantic Beach said the city cannot comment because of the pending litigation.