Driver in fatal Mandarin crash pleads no contest to civil citations

By Kumasi Aaron, Reporter, weekend anchor, kaaron@wjxt.com
Published On: Aug 06 2014 08:42:49 AM EDT
Updated On: Jun 19 2014 06:40:00 PM EDT

He hit and killed a woman and injured her daughter as they walked across a busy Mandarin intersection. But the Jacksonville man who was behind the wheel will not spend any time in jail after pleading no contest.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

The man charged in the fatal traffic crash last year that killed a woman and injured her daughter while they attempted to cross San Jose Boulevard at Haley Road in Mandarin pleaded no contest Wednesday to several civil citations.

Michael Fortunato pleaded no contest to careless driving, failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, and driving with an expired license in the September 2013 crash that killed 57-year-old Esther Ohayon and critically injured her 16-year-old daughter, Orly Ohayon.

Fortunato was fined more than $1,100 and had his driver's license suspended for six months.

Fortunato told investigators he didn't see the Ohayons as they crossed the road to get to services at Etz Chaim Synagogue.

This was the second time Fortunato has hit and killed a person with his vehicle and has not faced criminal charges.

"The charges issued are civil and not criminal based on the evidence collected, because there was no criminal intent or criminal action involved with this case," Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Dylan Bryan said in March.

Fortunato was never criminally charged in a case in 2009, when police said he hit and killed a 6-year-old boy in a separate crash. The FHP said because Fortunato was not drinking or on his cellphone, he wasn't driving while distracted. Therefore, authorities had no criminal recourse to charge him.

After the 2013 accident, the Florida Department of Transportation make several improvements to the traffic signal at the intersection.  They increased the pedestrian walk time from 44 to 52 seconds during over the Sabbath to accommodate large number of people walking to the synagogue.

Engineers also installed sensors to automatically activate the walk signal without having to push the button since Orthodox Jews are not to operate any electrical equipment on the Sabbath.

"I feel like it's helpful. I feel like it puts everyone at ease," said Courtnie Rupp, who works at the Village Inn on that corner. "For a while everyone was scared of what was going on."

FDOT said there will be more upgrades to the intersection, including crosswalk lighting.

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