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Deadly South Tampa crash brings planned changes to dangerous intersection

Neighbors have asked the city for changes for years. Now, they're seeing progress.

TAMPA, Fla. — It was horrifying and devastating, but neighbors say it was not unexpected. 

Those who live in Virginia Park have witnessed crashes at the intersection of S. Lois Avenue and W. Bay to Bay Boulevard for years. None like this.

A junior at Plant High School, 17-year-old Ben Francis, was riding his motorcycle with his girlfriend, 15-year-old Taylor Koulouris, as his passenger. According to Tampa police, both were wearing helmets. Officers say Francis was traveling east down Bay to Bay at “a high rate of speed” when the driver of a small SUV pulled out to cross north on Lois, and they crashed.

Francis and Koulouris were both rushed to the hospital, where Francis died hours later. Video shows first responders cutting the driver out of the car. He appeared awake, and TPD says he is expected to survive.

The intersection is next to a popular South Tampa park known as Friendship Park. It's one of the primary routes for children to cross to get to and from Dale Mabry Elementary and Coleman Middle School.

“It was 3rd, now it’s 1st,” Virginia Park Neighborhood Association President Tom Connelly said in reference to the list of priorities the association has presented to the city.

“We’ve had a fatality and a serious injury just this past week and numerous ones before that,” he said.

Connelly and other neighbors, including 10 Tampa Bay’s Courtney Robinson, have witnessed crashes over the years.  In 2018, Connelly says he and other members of the neighborhood association met with city representatives.

“Since that meeting in 2018, has anything changed?” asked 10 Tampa Bay’s Courtney Robinson.

“At this intersection? No,” he said.

Caroll Ann Bennett lives near the intersection and is the vice president of the Tampa Homeowners Neighborhood Association or THAN.

“I heard the crash. I knew it was bad and I ran to the scene to see if I could help,” she said.

She says in decades the intersection has not changed, but South Tampa, the city and the population has.

“It looks exactly the same as it did when I moved in 31 years ago,” she said.

According to the Tampa Police Department, since 2015, there have been 30 crashes at the intersection of S. Lois Avenue and W. Bay to Bay Boulevard. Neighbors hope this will be the last.

Francis' father, Gary Francis, spoke with the dentist who had surveillance video of the crash.

“It was just really bad timing; really bad situation and it just seems like a very dangerous intersection,” he said.

Gary Francis said nothing can bring back his son, but he hopes that in the wake of his death, it will help protect others. He watched as his son’s friends spent Monday afternoon painting the crosswalk across Bay to Bay as a memorial to Ben and also a warning to others trying to cross.

“I think it’d be a lot safer if they put a light here. I’d rather see a light here in remembrance of Benjamin,” he said.

And it seems change is on the way.

In an email to Tom Connelly, a city representative wrote that the city has “recently finalized a new plan design for Lois Av and Bay to Bay Bl that will install two RRFBs (Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons) like the ones on Bayshore Bl to enhance the crossing there.”

Brian Canipe, a Tampa transportation technician with the Mobility Department added, “This is intended to be an interim solution until the County identified funding to signalize the intersection.”

He also says there are plans to place more street markings to enhance the posted speed limit signs, to warn motorist of the playground and to help calm traffic upon approach.

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