FDOT: Fatal crash through Alligator Alley cable barrier system an anomaly

Alligator Alley.

Alligator Alley.

From the Facebook page of Cecilia Douglas, clockwise, Nathan Douglas, Cecilia Douglas, 33, Madison Douglas, 4, and Rylee Douglas, 3.

From the Facebook page of Cecilia Douglas, clockwise, Nathan Douglas, Cecilia Douglas, 33, Madison Douglas, 4, and Rylee Douglas, 3.

A SunTrust fund named the Douglas Memorial Account has been established for the family, at account No. 1000157840900.

Donations can also be made at www.youcaring.com/memorial-fundraiser/cecilia-douglas-rylee-douglas-memorial-fund/40600. Nearly $25,000 has been raised, according to the website.

— The failure of an Alligator Alley cable barrier system to keep an Immokalee mother and her two daughters from crashing into a canal was an anomaly, not the norm, according to state data.

The system, installed parallel to canals running alongside Interstate 75, has successfully kept vehicles out of the water about 81 percent of the time during the most recent five-year period for which the Florida Department of Transportation has data.

Of the 112 crashes involving the system between 2007 and 2011, vehicles have blasted through the cables 14 times. Another seven vehicles have flipped over the cables and missed the system entirely.

State transportation officials will review the system following the Jan. 21 crash that killed Cecilia Renee Douglas, 33, and her two daughters, Madison, 4, and Rylee, 3. A preliminary investigation shows the Lexus sedan driven by Douglas rear-ended another vehicle, causing it to swerve and crash through a pole connected to the cables, FDOT spokeswoman Debbie Tower said.

While emphasizing the need for review following the three deaths, Tower said the $4.2-million system, installed in 2004, has cut down on fatalities on Alligator Alley and generally been successful. Between 1995 and 2000, an average of three people died each year from crashes into the canals. From 2007 to 2011, there were two fatal crashes in the canals, according to FDOT.

"We're pleased that the system has been effective in many, many situations," Tower said, "but certainly no one wants to see one crash, one injury or one fatality."

Evaluating whether the 81 percent effectiveness rate is high or low can be difficult. Trucks and sport utility vehicles are less likely to be restrained, and vehicles hitting the system head-on can slide underneath the cables. Weather conditions, maintenance of the cables and system design specifications can contribute to success rates as well.

The Roadway Safety Foundation, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit, reports cable barriers in medians have been up to 95 percent effective in restraining vehicles. No data is available about cables along outside lanes.

Henry Jasny, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a Washington D.C.-based alliance, said most barrier systems are engineered using a design from the 1980s, before the prevalence of SUVs. As a result, larger vehicles remain more prone to breaking through the barrier, Jasny said.

"They've learned some things about making the system better, but essentially it's a lot like plumbing. Not much has changed since it was first developed," Jasny said.

In the Douglas' crash, the cables might have worked if their sedan "had hit the system maybe 10 feet to the left or 10 feet to the right," Tower said. FDOT officials will be examining safety around the poles, which are about 1,500 to 2,000 feet apart, and reviewing Florida Highway Patrol crash reports and other physical evidence, Tower said.

"As much as we might want it to be, it simply isn't realistic to expect 100 percent" effectiveness, Tower said. "However, we will review this crash specifically. We're going to look again at the system and our engineers will talk internally."

Don Eagle, a spokesman for the Douglas family following the crash, said he hasn't talked with Nathan Douglas, the husband of Cecilia and father of Madison and Rylee, about his thoughts on the cable system.

For now, Eagle said, Nathan Douglas' focus is on moving to live with family in central Florida. Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officials have agreed to transfer Douglas, a law enforcement officer, to the region, Eagle said.

From 2007 to 2011, 112 crashes have involved the cable barrier system constructed along Alligator Alley. In about 81 percent of the cases, the cables have successfully restrained the vehicles.

Year Crashes Restrained Not restrained Went over cables Not restrained fatalities

2007...36................30.........................3............................3.................................0

2008...22................16.........................4............................2.................................0

2009...18................16.........................2............................0..................................0

2010...22................19.........................3............................0..................................1

2011...14................10.........................2............................2..................................1

Source: Florida Department of Transportation

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