MY VERO: 25 recent reports of road rage raise safety concerns

Of the more than 25 recent reports to the Sheriff’s Office of road-rage incidents in our community, two are especially disturbing.

The first occurred at about 12:30 a.m. March 5 and involved an aggressive driver in a small, dark-colored, 1990s-model pickup truck that intentionally rear-ended a young woman’s car as she drove along Old Dixie Highway, then followed her as she turned onto Fourth Street, where it tried to run her off the road.

The truck fled onto 20th Avenue and the woman wasn’t injured, but the harrowing episode was one of several road-rage complaints involving a similar vehicle – believed to be either a Ford Ranger or Chevy S-10 – currently being investigated by Sheriff’s detectives.

“Our detectives are trying to see if there’s a pattern,” Sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Eric Flowers said. “Thus far, though, there’s been only one such incident that involved damage to another vehicle.”

Actually, there might’ve been two.

Which brings me to the allegation of a second road-rage incident that did far more damage than the vicious assault on the young woman.

Arlene DeSocio was traveling east in the left lane on Oslo Road shortly after 10 a.m. on March 7, when a dark-green pickup truck began riding her rear bumper. As she approached Old Dixie Highway, the truck swerved into the right lane, sped alongside her car and cut in front of her.

The 68-year-old retiree veered into the curbed median to avoid contact with the truck and crashed into a palm tree.

That’s the story DeSocio told the on-scene deputy before she was rushed to the Indian River Medical Center, where she was diagnosed with a broken back, cracked sternum and fractured ribs, then transported to the Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Fort Pierce.

That’s also the story her husband, Richard, told Sheriff Deryl Loar in a face-to-face meeting last week.

But the deputy, basing his crash report on skid marks supposedly made by the woman’s car and a statement from a witness driving in the opposite direction, didn’t believe her. And Loar explained that, barring strong evidence that the deputy had erred, he could not intervene.

So DeSocio was ticketed for careless driving. In fact, a deputy drove to Lawnwood one day after the crash to deliver the citation while she was still in the trauma unit.

“I guess they had to get to her before she escaped,” her husband said. “Forget that she’s in a body brace. She caused $200 worth of damage to a tree.”

Or did she?

No one is denying that DeSocio’s car hit the palm tree, but what caused her to do so?

According to the crash report filed by Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Luther, he found no signs of DeSocio’s car “taking evasive action to avoid impact with another vehicle.”

He wrote that there were “signs of braking” on the pavement “just prior to impacting the raised concrete curbing,” and that the skid marks were “straight and parallel with one another.”

Luther’s report also identified Ann Austin as a witness who was driving westbound on Oslo Road when she observed DeSocio’s car “occupying the center continuous left-turn lane” but did not “see any other vehicles around” prior to the crash.

DeSocio’s husband, however, disputed the deputy’s report, calling the findings “ridiculous” and saying he and his wife will challenge the citation in court.

He said he arrived on the scene shortly after the crash and found no skid marks “because there was no attempt to stop.” He also questioned the credibility of the witness, arguing that Austin could not have seen what she said she saw.

“She was going the other way,” DeSocio’s husband said. “Why the heck would she be looking backwards?”

As for DeSocio telling Luther the truck that forced her into the median was green, her husband said, “She told me it was a dark-colored pickup truck. She told the deputy it was a dark-green truck, but she was in agony. It might’ve been black.”

DeSocio’s husband does not question his wife’s version of what happened – that the truck was tailgating her car, swerved around her and forced her into the median. He does not doubt that the truck driver, for whatever reason, purposely caused the crash.

“She saw the truck coming into her, tried to avoid it and ended up in the median,” he said. “We’re not the type of people who drive aggressively.”

Not anymore, anyway.

DeSocio’s husband said he and his wife are former road-race drivers – they competed on a Corvettes circuit from the mid-1990s until 2008, mostly in New York state – and that she won multiple races and championships.

“She knows how to drive,” he said. “She knows how to avoid a collision. She’s not a careless driver.”

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the DeSocios are not newcomers to Vero Beach, their home for the past 15 years. They know the roads here and are familiar with local traffic patterns.

So how likely is it that DeSocio, with so much experience behind the wheel, drifted into the median and drove into a palm tree because she wasn’t paying attention?

Did she concoct a detailed, road-rage story on the spot simply to cover for a mistake?

Or was she the victim she claims to be?

Flowers said DeSocio’s account doesn’t fit the modus operandi of the other recent road-rage complaints received by the Sheriff’s Office, where detectives have determined her crash is not connected to the other reported incidents – including the March 5 attack on the young woman driving along Old Dixie Highway.

“People are calling when they see a black pickup truck, especially since we put it on our Facebook page, and our detectives continue to look into it,” Flowers said. “But we don’t get a lot of road-rage calls.

“Aside from that one incident, which has produced a tremendous response on social media, we’re not getting a higher volume of road-rage reports.”

That, too, should concern you – because anyone who spends any time on our roads, particularly during the busy winter season, knows there’s way too much aggressive driving out there.

And it’s much too easy for some to cross the line from aggressive driving to road rage.

I’ve seen plenty of both, and not just when I worked in New York, Los Angeles, Denver and Jacksonville, big cities filled with short-fused drivers who sometimes see others on the road as the enemy. It’s part of living and commuting in metropolitan areas.

But here?

Flowers said local incidents of aggressive driving and road rage probably are under-reported, at least partially because many people don’t want to get involved and risk possible retribution. Some callers don’t provide an adequate description of the offenders’ vehicles.

That doesn’t mean these traffic-related temper tantrums aren’t happening.

“We get more reports during the height of the season, when there are a lot of drivers on the road, including visitors and people who don’t live here year-round, and people get frustrated,” Flowers said. “I’m sure if you ask most drivers, they’ll say they’ve seen it.”

Yes, here.

Based on my familiarity with this community – and knowing that these pseudo-tough guys wreaking havoc on our streets are too cowardly to confront anyone else – I’m guessing most local victims of road rage are seniors and women.

“We’re not seeing fistfights on the side of the road,” Flowers said, adding that anyone being harassed by one of these road-raged drivers should remain focused, call 911 if possible, avoid confrontation and try to get to a safe place.

“If someone is out there bumping people from behind or forcing people off the road, that’s dangerous and we want to know about it,” he continued. “It’s like any other crime or suspicious behavior: If you see something, call 911 immediately and get us on the way.

“The more information you can provide, the better our chances of catching them.”

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