Families on a mission to stop wrong way drivers
The crash happened in 2013, but the raw emotions of that fateful morning are still real for Gary Catronio and his family. "It's as though we lost her yesterday," said Gary. "The pain never subsides."
Life changed for the Catronios the morning of November 17, 2013. On that day, Gary’s 21-year-old daughter Marisa and her best friend Kaitlyn Ferrante, were traveling home after spending time with friends near the Florida coast. Just before 2AM on the Sawgrass Expressway, a speeding car, traveling the wrong way, crashed into Marisa and Kaitlyn with an impact so forceful, it took both of their lives.
"That day we lost our daughter (Marisa) and our daughter at heart (Kaitlyn)," said Gary. "These beautiful, young souls who brought light and love into the world are gone forever."
"They had bright, promising futures," said Kaitlyn's mom, Christine. "Two smart, strong women whose big dreams were just about to begin."
According to reports, the driver hit the pair head on. Her blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. "This tragedy was 100 percent preventable,” said Christine. “No one should ever experience the searing heartache all of us feel every day.”
Making a Change:
Within 24 hours of losing their daughters – the Catronios, the Ferrantes and their friends made it their mission to honor the legacies of Marisa and Kaitlyn. Not only in their homes, but on interstates nationwide. “Our highways must be safer. So we got to work - starting with the Sawgrass Expressway,” said Gary.
In the winter of 2013, the Catronio family began researching how to block wrong way drivers from entering the road. It’s the mission of Marisa’s Way, a foundation created to prevent driving errors. “It starts with enhanced signage,” said Gary. “We investigated how to alert drivers before it’s too late. The problem is, with some entrances, you can’t see the wrong way warning. Sometimes the signs are too high, too far back, or too far apart – which means car headlights don’t hit them at the right angle – so they don’t illuminate.”
Finding a Solution:
In 2014, Marisa’s Way launched a pilot project using flashing LED wrong way signs.
“They’re not cheap and can cost up to $2,500,” said Gary. “But a representative of Traffic and Parking Control Products and Solutions (TAPCO) heard our story and sent us one. That generosity helped get the ball rolling.”
The enhanced LED blinking signs don’t rely on car headlights to illuminate. Instead, the high tech, low maintenance flashing bulbs help catch drivers’ attention and can trigger a 9-1-1 call to local authorities.
“In 2014, we took a 36 x 24 LED sign with us when we lobbied for this technology in Tallahassee,” said Gary. “The sign flashed as I addressed lawmakers on the steps of the state capitol. Shortly after that presentation, the state approved these signs for testing in South Florida. I recommended putting them on the Sawgrass Expressway first.” Next stop? The Florida Department of Transportation.
“Our team used a working sign to demonstrate this technology to FDOT,” said Gary. “When we gave the presentation one of the members said, ‘Gary - can you do me a favor? Could you shut that off? The LED is so bright, I can barely see!’”
That eye catching comment confirmed what Gary had wanted. “This vivid signage CAN get people’s attention,” he said.
SEEING the Impact:
One year after Marisa and Kaitlyn were killed, LED-Enhanced Wrong Way Blinker Signs are installed on the Sawgrass Expressway. According to Marisa’s Way, since then, 41 out of 42 cars turned around because the drivers realized they were going the wrong way. “Our mission is to save as many lives as possible, said Christine. “We do this for all people in honor of our angels Marisa and Kaitlyn. May they never be forgotten.”
Through the support of community members, organizations and companies like State Farm® – Marisa’s Way continues to educate people young and old about the importance of safe driving. “We speak from the heart,” said Christine. “We discuss the frequency of wrong way crashes, explain why you never drink and drive, and demonstrate how the safety sign technology is used on roads and highways.”
"We're not done yet," said Gary. “Our hope is to expand this program nationwide. With community support and awareness, Marisa’s Way will continue saving lives. If everyone makes safe driving decisions – the magnitude of this mission will multiply.”