Drunk driver sentenced after hitting, killing 15-year-old bicyclist
By Carrie A. Mizell
A Bell mother feels like the justice system has let her down after the man accused of hitting and killing her son while he was riding a bicycle down County Road 340 last August was charged with only a misdemeanor.
Donald Wood, of High Springs, incurred a misdemeanor charge of DUI after a Florida Highway Patrol investigator and an assistant state attorney deemed there was not enough evidence to charge him with a felony count of DUI Manslaughter in the death of 15-year-old Kyle Ford.
Kyle’s mother, Pam Ford, did not agree with the charges brought against Wood and was therefore not satisfied last Monday when County Judge Ed Philman sentenced Wood to 90 days in the county jail; 60 of those days can be spent in a residential rehabilitation facility; driver’s license revoked for one year; 12 months probation; and 100 hours of community service, of which 50 hours must be spent at a cemetery in Gilchrist County.
At the time of the accident, which occurred less than a mile east of NW 15th Avenue, Wood tested positive for DUI with a blood alcohol level of 0.22 and 0.21, which is well over the .08 percent blood alcohol content that is considered illegal.
Apparently, Wood told Florida Highway Patrol Investigator Cpl. Rodney Howard at the scene of the accident that Kyle pulled his bicycle into the path of the minivan he was driving. However, Kyle’s mother maintains that witnesses to the accident say Wood did not slow down or swerve before hitting her son and ejecting him from the bicycle he was riding.
“He [Wood] was so intoxicated he couldn’t make sense of what was happening,” Pam Ford said. “He [Wood] said he saw both boys on their bicycles, but yet he never slowed down or swerved…How do you take the word of a drunk man over witnesses?”
Kyle’s mother said she talked to Cpl. Howard three days after the accident, and he said Kyle was at fault, which she said was before he even started the investigation.
“There are just so many discrepancies,” Pam Ford said. “When I contacted Assistant State Attorney Andrea Muirheard and asked her if she had looked at the pictures of Kyle’s bike that I sent her, or gone out to the scene, she admitted that she hadn’t, which shows me that they didn’t go in depth to find answers.”
Despite Pam Ford’s belief that a thorough investigation was not conducted, she gave a victim’s impact statement during sentencing last week, along with the mother of Kyle’s friend, Gage, who was riding a bicycle beside Kyle when the accident occurred.
“By his [Wood’s] actions, I feel like he committed murder, by making the decision to drink and drive,” Pam Ford said in the courtroom.
The August accident was not Wood’s first DUI charge; prior to that he was charged with DUI in 1979 and has since had three or four speeding tickets, a charge for driving with an open container, a charge of reckless driving, and seatbelt violations, Pam Ford pointed out.
Kyle’s classmates at Bell Middle-High School will forever miss Kyle, who is remembered as a happy student and friend, who enjoyed playing basketball and dreamed of one day being an archeologist.
In fact on the afternoon of the accident, Pam Ford said her son and his friend, Gage were just a mile down the road from the Fords’ home in a wooded area they often explored looking for arrowheads and fossils. Pam Ford said she called her son 10 minutes before the accident happened and reminded him to come home as it would be getting dark in another half hour or so.
“He was a smart boy who rode his bike all the time,” Pam Ford said. “I feel like Kyle’s mistake was to be too trusting.”
Kyle’s mother said the family was able to donate Kyle’s organs, which has been a tremendous blessing to the family, just knowing that out of the grief of Kyle’s death other lives have been saved.
The Ford family consulted with local attorney Robert Willis, who served as victim’s rights counsel, following the accident.
Following last week’s sentencing, Willis said, “From the legal side I am not surprised with how the case turned out, but personally I feel like it is an unfortunate outcome to an unfortunate incident.”
Ultimately, Willis said he feels like Judge Philman had no choice but to sentence Wood as he did, considering how the man was charged.