Local News

Signs of Life

AVON PARK - Although the second-anniversary of the fateful day their son was struck and killed by a speeding car recently passed, their drive to keep other children safe outside carries on through signs of hope.

March 18, 2012, 7-year-old Matthew Waldrup was struck and killed by a 2000 silver Chevrolet Camaro while he was riding his bicycle at South Florida Avenue and West State Street, just about 50 yards from his family's home.

Since she lost her son and he lost his stepson, Nicholas and Mandy Fisher have grieved, but in the process, decided to do what they could to prevent another similar tragedy from occurring.

Through the website "Keep Kids Alive Drive 25," based in Omaha, Neb., the couple has been purchasing stickers and road and yard signs to provide visible reminders of the importance of slowing down in neighborhoods. They have spent $130 for two, 24-inch by 32-inch "Keep Kids Alive Drive 25" road signs and $600 for groups of 300 trash can stickers from the "Keep Kids Alive Drive 25" non-profit, public awareness foundation.

The Fishers have placed one sign at the southwest corner of west State Street and south Florida Avenue where Matthew was hit around 3:30 p.m. that day by a 23-year-old neighbor. Mandy said Highlands County Sheriff's Office reports showed he was traveling 49 mph when he struck her son and he died at scene. She said as of October 2013, he had never personally apologized to her or her husband, sons Brandon, 21, and Austin Waldrup, 15, or daughter, Hanna, 5, and that he got away with a speeding citation.

According to the Highlands County Clerk of Courts, Escobedo has had his license suspended, to complete community service hours, take defensive driving school courses and pay fines.

The Fishers hope residents will buy stickers and put them on their trash bins. Although the signs are either up or going up, Avon Park administration advises the Fishers go through the right approval process. Public Safety Officer Seth Henderson said installing the signs shouldn't be a difficulty, but he suggests the Fishers go through the public safety office and get approval to make sure they can stay in place.

I don't see why anyone would have a problem with them, but if they're in the right-of-way and they're not approved, they would need to be taken up," he said.

Tom Everson, founder and executive director of "Keep Kids Alive Drive 25" in Omaha, Neb., said he visited the Fishers last June and was impressed by their desire to commit to slowing people down in neighborhoods. He said he has signs in about 1,500 communities in 49 states nationwide and in three Canadian provinces and in Australia.

Speaking by phone from Omaha, Everson said the speeding problem is exacerbated by cell phone use and texting. He said the use of his signs and stickers caused a 5 percent decrease in average speeds in Oro Valley, Ariz., over the year in 2001. He set up the non-profit in 1998 and has worked with other Florida communities such as Jupiter, West Palm Beach, FishHawk Ranch, Miami and Daytona.

"The success of the sign-based campaign is really predicated on a community having a plan of action that really works to engage residents on sending out the message of slowing down," he said. "It's very admirable what they're (Fishers) doing; they are people who want to make a difference."

In addition to the road signs, the Fishers have memorialized their son and spread their message through founding butterfly gardens in his name at their State Street home's backyard. His school, Memorial Elementary, dedicated a butterfly garden to him March 18, 2013 and his church, Union Congregational, will be dedicating a playground - "Matty's Playground" - to the boy when its children's ministry building is built by 2015.

It's all been a process of love, respect and prevention over the past two years, said the Fishers.

"This has been horrible, but I have to go on for his brother and sister and for other kids that could become victims. I'm not going to let this go," she said.


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