BRADENTON - Two weeks away from giving birth to her daughter, Melissa Wandall learned that her baby girl would never meet her father.
Mark Wandall, 30, died when a woman ran a red light at the intersection of State Road 70 and Tara Boulevard and plowed into the SUV in which he was a passenger in October 2003. A small memorial stands at the intersection asking people to drive safely in Mark Wandall's name. Now, something else stands to insist.
Red light cameras will now catch those who run red lights and issue tickets with a fine of $158.
“I'll leave my house virtually every day, and I have to go through that intersection, Melissa Wandall says. She says she got a pleasant surprise when she noticed the cameras going up a couple weeks ago. Someone from Manatee County called her to let her know they would go live Tuesday, June 18. “These cameras are truly about saving a life, and about one less Mark Wandall story,” She says. “Somebody had to die for those cameras to go up.”
She says these unblinking eyes keep her husband alive. She battled a sometimes skeptical state legislature to make them legal. The cameras still face critics, and so does the woman who became their public face. “I had somebody call me and tell me that God would punish me for what I've done,” she says. “Like I have this huge power and God would punish me because my husband was killed and I wanted to do something positive about it.”
She says that since the fatal crash, things like smart phones have only made driving more dangerous. The cameras force people to focus on the road, she says. And more than 90 percent of people who get a ticket from them do not get another. “What does that mean?” she asks. “They're complying. They're learning their lesson. Less people are being injured. Less people are being killed.”
Almost a decade after her husband's death, Melissa Wandall's love for him clearly remains undying. But she can only guess at what he might think of what she calls his life-saving legacy. “I think he would say that 'there's my girl, I knew she'd have my back.'”
Melissa Wandall has become an advocate for these cameras around the country – but is glad to see the one just a mile-and-a-half from her home.