Sunbather run over on Fernandina beach

2nd hit-and-run involving a sunbather in less than a month in Nassau County

By Erik Avanier - Reporter

FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. - A woman sunbathing on a Fernandina beach was run over Tuesday afternoon, authorities said.

The hit-and-run happened about 1:40 p.m. in an area just east of where the sand drops off toward the ocean at Seaside Park near Sadler Road.

According to the Fernandina Beach Police Department, a 53-year-old Akron, Ohio, woman was run over by a silver Jeep Cherokee. Police said the driver of the Jeep took off despite being told by a witness that he had run over a sunbather.

"The lady said, 'Stop. That guy just ran over me.' He got stuck right here. He just kept trying to go up, but one of the witnesses came over and said, 'Did you know you just ran someone over?' And he just kept going,'" Jessica Davila, who witnessed the incident from about 30 feet away, told News4Jax. 

Investigators learned, based on witnesses' accounts and evidence at the scene, that the driver of the Jeep was traveling east toward the ocean and bounded off the raised sand to the sand below, striking the woman and running over her as she lay on the beach. The driver then accelerated rapidly and turned back to the west and drove toward the beach parking entrance, police said.

It's unclear the extent of the sunbather's injuries, but Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said one person was taken to a hospital. 

Another woman, who said she was with the sunbather but did not wish to be identified, said she tried to get the driver to stop. That woman also told News4Jax the sunbather was injured "all over her body.”

The vehicle was identifiable by Florida tag and officers said they immediately went to the area where the vehicle was registered, which was less than a mile away from the scene of the hit-and-run.

Police said they learned that the owner of the Jeep arrived just minutes before officers and hurried to park his vehicle in the garage of the house next to his residence.  He refused to respond to police attempts to talk to him for more than an hour, but eventually agreed to come outside when asked by the homeowner, according to the Police Department.

As of early Tuesday evening, police said they were interviewing the Jeep driver. They said he could be charged with leaving the scene of an accident with injuries.

Anyone with information should call the detective in charge of the case at 904-310-3217.

It was the second time a sunbather was run over by a vehicle in Nassau County. On April 24, according to the Nassau County Sheriff's Office, a St. Marys woman was run over by another Jeep while sunbathing at Peters Point Park, a beach access off South Fletcher Avenue in an unincorporated part of Amelia Island. She was taken to Baptist Medical Center Nassau, where she was treated for injuries to her legs. 

The two incidents have fueled debate over whether vehicles should be allowed on the beach. 

“I don’t think you can see if you’re in a higher-raised vehicle if someone is on the beach," beachgoer Tara Horton said. 

Attorney John Phillips, who represents the woman who was run over last month, released the following statement, saying beach driving should be ended if it cannot be done safely, after learning of the second sunbather who had been run over:

"Three weeks ago, we demanded the City of Fernandina Beach and Nassau County issue a moratorium on beach driving if it could not ensure the safety of sunbathers and beachgoers. They ignored our warning. Another life will be forever changed by the crushing weight of a vehicle on top of a woman’s body.

"According to police, another Jeep ran over another guest to our state. The driver of the Jeep fled the scene, even after being told he had run over a woman. This isn’t dissimilar from the hit and run that occurred to our client. That driver still hasn’t been found. This has to stop. As proven by the attached warning, the City of Fernandina and Nassau County has done nothing despite repeated notice of a dangerous condition."

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