A 2007 Chrysler Pacifica is pulled out of the water near the intersection of Custer Avenue and Eden Avenue. (Submitted photo/Travis Anderson)
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office received a report of a crash on Custer Avenue in Immokalee just after 11:25 p.m. on Saturday, January 6, 2018. When deputies, firefighters, and paramedics arrived they located Ra’Layah Johnson, age 3, who was transported to Naples Community Hospital where she was pronounced deceased. The Collier County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team and helicopter responded to help search for additional victims. The search continued throughout the night and into Sunday morning when the vehicle was located and removed by Keith’s Towing. A second passenger, Ra’Majesty Johnson, age 5, was located in the vehicle and pronounced deceased. North Collier Fire & Rescue District’s Dive Team responded and deployed their boat. Along with the assistance of a Sheriff’s Office drone, divers located the driver of the vehicle, Shatoria Michelle Brown, age 27, who was pronounced deceased. According to the initial report provided by Florida Highway Patrol, the 2007 Chrysler Pacifica traveled east on Eden Avenue, continued past the intersection of Apple Street, and failed to stop at the intersection of Custer Avenue. The vehicle then traveled through a construction site and crashed into a retention pond where it became submerged. Several residents were concerned when they learned about the crash since they thought the extension connecting Eden Avenue to Custer Avenue was still closed. A resident who lives on Custer Avenue echoed those remarks and said that she was not aware that the extension had been opened. She said that she was concerned because the area at night is dark, poorly lit, and doesn’t have the proper signage to let drivers know that although the extension may be open. Upon closer inspection, it does appear that the barricades which once stopped traffic from entering Custer Avenue, have since been moved to the side of Eden Avenue and there are no signs to warn drivers of the impending stop. In fact, there isn’t even a stop sign at the new corner of Eden Avenue and Custer Avenue. The one street light that might illuminate the intersection of Eden Avenue and Custer Avenue has a broken lamp cover and appears not to work. Because the construction site and roadway still belong to Habitat for Humanity of Collier County as part of their Faith Landing project, we reached out to their office for comment. Nick Kouloheras, President of Habitat for Humanity in Collier County said that he was upset when he heard about the tragedy that took place Saturday night. Kouloheras said that the new extension does not have the proper markings that a roadway should at this point because technically the road has not yet been officially opened. Kouloheras went on to say that the connection from Custer Avenue to Eden Avenue was required and approved through the zoning process and for now the new extension still belongs to Habitat for Humanity. As the project progresses and homes are built in the northwest corner of Faith Landing, the new road extension will be inspected by the County. Following that inspection, the road will officially be opened within 45-60 days. Twelve months after that, the road will officially be turned over to Collier County. When asked about whether Habitat of Collier County plans to install signs or guardrails at the T intersection of Custer Avenue and Eden Avenue until the road is officially opened, Kouloheras said that options are being looked which includes the possibility of securing the barricades that were originally in place. Just prior to the vehicle entering the water, Brown’s vehicle missed hitting a light pole by just a few inches. “I wished she would have hit the pole, maybe they would still be alive.” Kouloheras said. A search of the Collier County Traffic Operations website also reveals that there were no Road Alert Updates pertaining to the Faith Landing project for at least the last month. Until the Florida Highway Patrol concludes their investigation, local residents say they will be pushing Habitat for Humanity to install proper lights and signs so that another tragedy like this doesn’t occur in the future.