By: Sharon Aron Baron
This month marks one year since two Coral Springs women were killed in a wrong-way crash on the Sawgrass Expressway, and since then, one father has been working to make highways safer for everyone.
Last November 17, at 1:45 a.m. Marisa Catronio and Kaitlyn Ferrante, both 21, were driving on the Sawgrass Expressway towards Coral Ridge Drive when Kayla Mendoza, 20, illegally entered the exit ramp causing a head-on collision that killed them both. Mendoza survived.
Shortly after the crash, while still grieving for their daughter Marisa, the Catronio family created Marisa’s Way to make sure their lost lives led to greater highway safety. Last Wednesday, both families were recipients of a proclamation from the City of Coral Springs which declared November as “Responsible Driving Awareness Month.”
Marisa’s way, now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit seeks to have a bill introduced through the Florida Legislature that will focus on creating more entrance ramp awareness along with physical devices to alert wrong-way drivers.
On November 1, Gary Catronio, Kaitlyn’s mother Christine Ferrante, and their families, held an event educating the public about the new wrong-way detection system on the Sawgrass Expressway’s off-ramps that lights up when wrong-way drivers approach as well as alerting FHP. The new pilot program for this detection system is now installed on five exit ramps on the Sawgrass Expressway, ten on the Turnpike Extension, and several in Orlando and Tallahassee.
But it wasn’t easy getting them installed. Catronio, who is the CEO of Marisa’s way, spoke to 200 students from around the state, participated a summit in Tallahassee, then presented them to the State Legislature.
Catronio said that one of the signs installed on the Sawgrass even triggered on Halloween night which alerted FHP.
The organization is now offering several Coral Springs High School students a chance to win scholarships from Marisa’s Way.
“We knew right off the bat we’d do scholarships, but the most important thing we do are the talks about awareness and the highway safety devices,” said Catronio.
Catronio recently visited Stoneman Douglas High School, where both his daughter and Kaitlyn Ferrante were 2010 graduates. He talked to students about their tragic deaths and offered two students a $1,000 scholarship for writing an essay with the best idea to improve highway safety.
Coral Springs, Coral Glades, Coral Springs Charter, and J.P. Taravella High School students will soon have their chance to win a scholarship when their contest begins.
Catronio said that students that win must continue to be responsible drivers or they could forfeit their scholarship. “We don’t want to give them out to anyone that is a hazard on the road.”
Catronio is not stopping and still has ideas on making the roadways safer. “I’m working on retractable spike sticks. If you can puncture the tires on a car, you can keep it from going over 30 mph. My daughter experienced 97 [mph speeds]. The one that I’m designing, once they pass the wrong-way signs, the retractable spike strips are deployed. “
He said that when he’s not working, he dedicates his time to Marisa’s Way and anything he can do to prevent wrong-way drivers.
“If I can save one life it will make the difference of my daughter’s ultimate sacrifice.”