Attorney: ATV that ran over woman on Jax Beach was weighted down

ATV driven by 17-year-old sports rental employee injures sunbather, police say

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – An all-terrain vehicle that ran over a 48-year-old woman Friday afternoon on Jacksonville Beach had been intentionally weighted down with home gym equipment, according to the woman's lawyer.

The injury was reported at 15th Avenue North, a popular place for sunbathers.

Attorney John Phillips said his client, Tonine Dodaj, was lying on her back at the public entrance to the beach near the Courtyard Marriott when she heard a loud noise and was immediately run over.

The 17-year-old driver of the ATV works at East Coast Sports Rentals, located beside the Courtyard Marriott hotel, police said. The business rents out items, such as bikes and surfboards, which are transported to the beach on ATVs, the owner said.

Phillips said Dodaj was knocked out and woke up to someone doing chest compressions on her. He said she was rushed to a hospital and treated for “orthopedic and neurological injuries.”

He said she has suffered loss of sensation in both arms and one leg and will be consulting specialists this week.

The owner of East Coast Sports Rentals apologized for the incident, and the father of the teen driver said his son was very upset by what happened.

Ocean Rescue Capt. Rob Emahiser, whose agency was the first to responded to the scene, said mostly government ATVs travel the beach for patrolling, but those drivers have proper training. In this case, the driver worked for a private vendor.

"Keep in mind, no one on the beach expects a vehicle to be there, so it’s completely the responsibility of the driver to err on the side of caution,” Emahiser said.

For clarification, ATVs are not for rent to regular beachgoers. They’re only for rent to vendors that have approval from the city for their use.

Phillips is currently representing three other people who have been run over on the beach. Although the extent of the woman’s injuries are not known, he said injuries in such incidents can be critical, sometimes fatal.

“Everything from a crushed arm to damaged facial nerves. It can get fairly significant,” Phillips said, adding that the Florida Supreme Court has stated sunbathers have a dominant right on the beach.

“There is no excuse of your operating a four-wheeled vehicle on the beach. You need to look around for sunbathers. I don't care what happens, that’s your fault,” Phillips said.

News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said that although it is the driver’s responsibility to watch out for sunbathers, there are a few things beachgoers can do to be more visible while lying on the beach:

  • Have an umbrella sticking out of the sand next to you
  • Lie near a life guard post
  • Lie on a bright chair instead of flat on the sand

The last time a similar incident happened was in Atlantic Beach, where a park ranger ran over two teens with his truck. Both girls recovered.

Phillips said his team has encouraged those operating motorized vehicles on the beach to place the word WATCH on their vehicles. It stands for “Windows down, Air conditioner off, Take notice of people around you at all times, Circle the vehicle and Honk your horn at intervals."

Phillips has asked for anyone who witnessed the incident to come forward with any accounts, photos or statements and contact him at 904-444-4444 or email help@floridajustice.com.

About the Author: