AVON PARK -
At the funeral last year for a 7-year-old boy whose life was cut short by a speeding car, his parents, Nick and Mandy Fisher, learned that their son touched more people than they ever imagined.
One of the many mementos they keep that shows that and honors their son, Matthew “Matty” Waldrup, was a little booklet that a classmate wrote. They found out subsequently that the classmate was shy and had few friends besides Matthew.
“I hope you are having fun in heaven,” the classmate wrote. “You are my best friend.”
Mandy Fisher said she didn’t know that her son befriended the boy.
“At the funeral his mother came up and gave it to me and that was really special,” she said.
She added that Matthew’s teacher said Matthew touched many other lives as well.
At Memorial Elementary School, a butterfly garden was named after Matthew. And at Union Congregation, where plans are to build a youth center and a playground, the decision was made that the future playground will be in honor of Matthew.
Despite those gestures and
the outpouring of support last year from the community in general, at Matthew’s school, church and his home after the funeral, the parents remain stuck in time. They can’t move past the death of their son in any real sense and they don’t feel closure.
“It’s a nightmare every night,” Nick Fisher said. “Every night we close our eyes, we’re the ones in prison. We’re the ones who aren’t getting out.”
Nick Fisher tries to reconcile the many photos they have of a bright, smiling son, with seeing his son who never had a chance of surviving the impact on his bicycle laying on the ground “with an obviously fatal wound to the left side of his head…”
No one has ever been directly charged with the death of their son. No one who may have been responsible has ever expressed remorse.
And the parents question where the justice is when the driver has been charged with speeding more than 20 miles beyond the speed limit in a residential area and yet authorities have said that Matthew, while riding his bike, may have had some responsibility.
They also are determined to help other parents by working to get the law changed so that someone will be held responsible in such cases.
The events leading up to the tragedy began on March 18, 2012. Nick Fisher and Matthew were at home, while Mandy Fisher was out doing some errands. Nick recalled that two young sisters came over and asked if Matthew could come and play with them, as he had in the past.
“I told him to be good and that I loved him, and I would see him in a while,” Nick Fisher recalled. It was the last time he would see his son alive.
Nick Fisher believes his son played with the girls for awhile, came home, but did not come inside and then headed toward another friend’s home.
That afternoon around 3:30 p.m. a neighbor notified him that someone driving a car had hit his son’s bicycle near the intersection of State Street and South Florida Avenue.
The driver was charged with speeding, going 49 miles per hour in a 25-miles-per-hour residential zone, Nick Fisher said. That speeding charge remains unresolved in court. Authorities said that the driver drove down the street and then returned to his mother’s house and got her to call 911.
While the Fishers argue that’s leaving the scene of an accident, authorities say they don’t believe those facts merit filing that charge.
The Fishers also question why a charge of vehicular manslaughter is not appropriate.
Assistant State Attorney Steve Houchin, who is in charge of the state attorney’s office in Highlands County, said the law requires a finding of reckless driving. Examinations by experts from the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office and an accident reconstruction expert from the Lakeland Police Department failed to show that the driver was driving recklessly, such as by going through red lights or stop signs, he said.
Nevertheless, he said, he understands how the parents feel about the situation.
“The Fishers have had a horrible loss,” he said.
The parents say they plan to go to legislative forums in hopes of convincing legislators to change the laws that now prevent more serious charges.
Since the accident, Nick Fisher said, “Plenty of lawyers have wanted to help us. We don’t want that type of help.”
“We need to see the justice system work,” he said.
So far, he added, “there’s been no justice whatsoever for Matthew.”