Rage at the Wheel

Thomas Eugene Schadowsky was on his way home to Yulee when he pulled his truck and trailer into a Jacksonville Gate station and got involved in a verbal altercation with another driver.

Minutes later, the 46-year-old self-employed handyman was shot dead, through the driver’s window into his left arm and chest. Police found Schadowsky slumped over the wheel where his truck and work trailer had crashed into some woods.

Police called the Feb. 6 shooting death an apparent case of road rage — an all-too-common occurrence on Northeast Florida streets, interstate highways and roadways. Police were unsure what happened before the fatal shooting and what prompted it.

Isreal Kevin Williams, 41, has been charged with Schadowsky’s death and is being held without bond in the Duval County Jail on charges of murder and shooting into an occupied vehicle.

Lt. Rob Schoonover said in a news conference that witnesses saw the two men arguing at the gas pumps. Williams finished pumping gasoline first, but waited for Schadowsky to pull out. Witnesses told police that in less than a minute, they heard gunfire. Schadowsky’s body was found a short time later. Police do not know what prompted the argument and there was no video surveillance at the gas station.

Most drivers see signs of aggressive driving on a frequent basis. It’s easy to get frustrated when other drivers cut you off, ride on your bumper, run red lights and speed through neighborhoods.

The extent of the problem is hard to define, because local and state law enforcement officers do not list road rage as a specific crime and don’t keep statistics on it.

“I wouldn’t say road rage is a big problem in regard to noticeable trends, but in any case of this nature, it is certainly unsafe and unnecessary,” said Sgt. Dylan Bryan, a Florida Highway Patrol spokesperson.

In Northeast Florida during the past year, statistics supplied by the Florida Highway Patrol show that only 52 tickets were issued for reckless driving and only six of those listed aggressive driving as a factor. Violations were recorded in Duval, Baker, Clay, Flagler and St. Johns counties. In 14 cases, injuries and property damage were reported.

The Florida Highway Patrol is not the only agency issuing tickets. Local police and county sheriff’s deputies can also write tickets.

“Since this isn’t an actual category of offenses, there is no way to know statistically” whether the problem is increasing, said Lauri-Ellen Smith, a spokesperson for Sheriff John Rutherford.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, in its brochure on road rage, states, “aggressive driving is a major concern of the American public and a real threat to the safety of all road users.”

There’s a fine line between aggressive driving and road rage, said Bruce Hamilton, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s manager of research and communications in Washington, D.C.

Aggressive driving is defined as any unsafe driving behavior, performed deliberately and with ill intention or disregard for human safety; road rage is defined as a violent criminal act involving an intention to cause physical harm, according to AAA Foundation.

AAA Foundation’s study, conducted more than a decade ago, looked at 10,000 road-rage incidents over seven years and found they resulted in at least 218 murders and 12,610 injury cases. Hamilton said a new study on road-rage incidents has not been done recently, but the Foundation is considering conducting one in the future.

The 2012 Florida Statutes define aggressive careless driving as committing two or more acts simultaneously or in succession. The acts include speeding, unsafely or improperly changing lanes, following another vehicle, failing to yield right-of-way, improperly passing, and violating traffic control and signal devices.

AAA Foundation said those actions are a factor in as many as 56 percent of fatal crashes.

Nationwide, 36,200 people died in motor vehicle accidents in 2012. That’s up from 34,600 deaths the previous year. In Florida, 2,040 were killed on roadways in 2012, compared with 2,373 in 2011.

“The big thing we are trying to push out is that it’s not worth the risk to engage in aggressive driving,” Hamilton said. The AAA Foundation’s 2012 Traffic Safety Culture Index, issued in January, surveyed 3,896 U.S. residents ages 16 and older in September.

The survey showed that 67.7 percent believed that aggressive driving is a much bigger problem or a somewhat bigger problem than it was three years ago. Another 48.6 percent felt that driving aggressively was a threat to their personal safety.

Nearly nine of 10 respondents to the survey said they believed aggressive drivers were a “somewhat” or very serious threat to their personal safety.

Americans value safe travel and desire a greater level of safety “and generally support laws that would improve traffic safety by restricting driver behavior, even when such laws would restrict behaviors they admit to engaging in themselves,” the survey found.

There have been several cases of road rage in Northeast Florida in the past few years, some with deadly consequences.

On March 19, 2012, Kahron Ali Warnke, 33, was shot and killed in an apparent road-rage incident on Jacksonville’s Westside. Brad Andrew Lippincott, 30, was arrested and charged with manslaughter and discharging a firearm in public from a vehicle. He is being held on $175,000 bond in the Duval County Jail.

On Nov. 13, 2005, a 24-year-old mother of twin toddlers was killed in a road-rage incident.

In a plea agreement, Mayo Clinic Florida physician Salim Ghazi pleaded guilty to two counts of reckless driving and was sentenced to a year’s probation and 150 hours of community service in the death of Kierra Shore.

Authorities said the incident began when Ghazi tailgated Shore in the fast lane on Hodges Boulevard. When he tried to get around her, she sped up and the two raced side-by-side, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

He was able to get his SUV in front of her vehicle and hit the brakes. She lost control of her car as he drove away, the FHP reported.

Shore was not wearing a seatbelt, and she was killed when she was partially ejected from her car.

Ghazi was allowed to maintain his innocence as part of the plea agreement and adjudication was withheld.

Prosecutors said they agreed to the plea agreement because Shore was also involved in the incident.

According to the Florida Department of Health, Ghazi is still practicing medicine at Mayo Clinic.

“Dr. Ghazi continues to care for patients at Mayo. Our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Ms. Kierra Shore for their loss,” said Kevin Punsky, a Mayo Clinic spokesperson.

Lynne McChristian, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute, urged drivers to avoid being the victim or perpetrator of road rage.

“Keeping your cool while on the road pays off in a number of ways. The most obvious is accident avoidance. The other is that if your aggressive driving causes a car crash, there is a real possibility that your auto insurance carries an exemption for accidents related to your road rage,” she said.

Hamilton had some recommendations for those caught in an escalating situation.

“We always advocate getting away from the situation, avoid eye contact, putting as much separation between your vehicle and the aggressor’s, and even going to a police station or calling 911 may all be necessary to handle such a case,” Hamilton said.

“Of course, drivers should never stop or get out of their vehicles to confront other motorists or settle things ‘man to man.’ ”