• Katie Delk

Not One More University Avenue Death

Death on University Avenue is a wheeling sequence. And it shouldn’t keep happening.

( @floridanotonemore / Instagram )


Kailey Kiss can’t drive with the windows open anymore. She trembles at the squeal of brakes. And she still hears their screams.


On the evening of Jan. 16, Kiss planned to unwind in her red Toyota Corolla. She straightened her brown hair and bordered her eyes with black eyeliner. She didn’t want to party in midtown, but after hours in her apartment, sometimes only drives pacified her mind.


From the stoplight, windows down, Kiss heard girls laughing at the intersection of Northwest 17th St. and West University Avenue. Moments later, she watched as a Honda Civic swerved and crashed into two of their hugging bodies.


Kiss veered into the Murphee dorm lot and reached for her inhaler. She couldn’t breathe. Her tears streamed when she told her mom.


“I’m pretty sure I saw someone die,” she said.


Sophia Lambert, an 18-year-old UF theater sophomore, died after the crash. Five others were hospitalized. But this wasn’t the first time Kiss was impacted by student deaths in recent months.



On Feb. 4th, flowers were left in honor of the victims of the recent University Avenue car accident. (Lauren Rousseau / Rowdy Magazine Editorial Director)


Just over a month before Lambert’s death, Kiss’s sorority sister Margaret Paxton, an 18-year-old UF Natural Resources and Conservation freshman, was struck and killed on University Avenue.


In July 2020, it was Kassandra Guzman-Ramirez and Denise Griffiths. In 2017, it was Karan Khullar. In 2016, it was Abigail Dougherty. All of these UF students died on University Avenue. And all of them were victims of dangerous driving.


Thousands of students and parents are calling for action. A petition demanding traffic safety has over 22,000 signatures, and another one for speed bumps on University Avenue has over 15,000.


Four days after Lambert’s death, the Gainesville Police Department initiated the Gator Special Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP), which increases police presence on University Avenue. Officers are pulling over speeding cars, motorcycles and even a city bus near UF.


Wednesday morning, Charles Lane, the Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, and D’Andra Mull, the Vice President for Student Affairs, responded. In an email sent to UF students, they announced initiatives with the city, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the University Police Department.


Along West University Avenue and surrounding areas, illuminated speed monitoring boards will be constructed, crosswalks will be repainted and a traffic enforcement program will begin. They also plan to erect a pedestrian walkway at UF’s Newell Gateway, as well as pedestrian crossings at NW 16th St. and NW 19th St. As far as campus safety, license plate readers and LED lights will be installed.


The email listed months the university predicts the walkways would be created. Other solutions, however, were only said to be done in “the foreseeable future.”


Kiss scoffed it off as not enough. Their commitment lies within short-term solutions, she said.


The email also said lowering speed limits was a “possibility,” despite the cries from students to do so. Maggie and Sophia were the only victims mentioned. And if they did speak with students or create a safety committee, it wasn’t with any of the 100 members of Florida Not One More, Kiss said.


She said she thinks the email was to shut them up. But deaths cannot be swept off the street.


“Apparently four [deaths] was not too many, because they still haven't done anything. They're just doing what's convenient for them right now,” she said. “But we want them to know that we're not going to back down until they make University Avenue 100% safe for students.”

And her emails to UF President, Kent Fuchs, have gone unanswered. She said she will call again this week to set up a meeting.


While Fuchs told WCJB News that he is committed to pedestrian safety efforts, Kiss said she wants him to hear what the students really want.


“What we're infuriated about is President Fuchs has basically been completely ghost,” she said. “We want him to just tell the students that he's committed to pressuring the Florida Department of Transportation and the state on this matter, because as of right now, there's been no formal commitment made.”



What you can do:


Through Florida Not One More, Kiss is encouraging students to contact the Florida Department of Transportation District 2, where change is made. Gainesville cannot make any permanent decisions without the FDOT because University Avenue is a state road.


However, the Gainesville City Commission approved a traffic safety plan on Jan. 21 to create a task force. The focus is on speed limit reductions, which Lane and Mull said is a possibility.


Kiss said University Avenue needs to be reengineered. Whether through urbanization or barriers along the roads, reconstruction may save lives. She also said it is imperative for UF to follow through with the complete streets study and safety audit.


According to a study by June Tester, speed bumps were associated with a 53% to 60% reduction of injury or death among children hit by cars in neighborhoods.


“You can't really anticipate for something like this to happen, but you can do whatever you can to prevent it,” Kiss said.


Although Kiss wasn’t physically hurt from the crash on Jan. 16, she feels lasting affliction. Her family and friends have validated her pain, but she said she still hasn’t processed the events completely.


Death on University Avenue is a wheeling sequence. And it shouldn’t keep happening.











Katie Delk is an Online Editor at Rowdy Magazine. Her simple pleasures include meditating, sitting beneath trees, writing poetry and blasting ’70s music. She cares immensely about the earth, powerful women and social justice. You can reach her at kdelk@ufl.edufor more info.