A woman asleep on the beach got quite the wake-up call from Walton County Sheriff's Office last night.
At approximately 6 p.m. Tuesday evening, Deputy Chad Biernacki with WCSO was patrolling the southwest beach area of Pompano Joes. After issuing an NTA to an underage drinker, Biernacki got back into his patrol vehicle.
According to the press release, he looked around his vehicle and began to make a U-turn when he felt a "slight bump" and heard a female curse. Biernacki reported he did not hear anyone yell for him to stop nor did he see anyone trying to alert him that someone was about to be hit. The victim had been asleep for more than 20 minutes and did not wake up until the vehicle hit her.
When Biernacki exited his vehicle, he found two females on the front passenger side, one of whom had a tire mark on her right shoulder. The deputy called for EMS. South Walton Fire Rescue arrived on the scene and transported Destin resident Jessica Nystrom to Sacred Heart on the Emerald Coast where she is in stable condition and may be released today.
"To my knowledge, this is the first time anything like this has happened," said Wendy Ammons, public information officer. "We're glad she's okay and in good shape."
Major AJ Smith has only been with Walton County Sheriff's Office for a few months, but said when he asked longstanding employees about similar accidents happening in the past, no one could recall such an incident.
"One time is too many," he said.
Similar accidents have happened on other Florida beaches, however. In 2011 a Daytona Beach lifeguard ran over a woman in front of her children, while making a U-turn to remove a broken bottle near the water's edge. The truck's front right tire struck the mother of three in the head area. The victim survived, but has facial paralysis on the left side of her face.
According to the "Orlando Sentinel," 43 people had been struck or run over by vehicles on the beach from 2005 to 2010.
In light of the recent Walton County accident, Smith said the sheriff's office will be looking into their beach patrol training policies.
It is not clear how many people were on the beach at the time of the accident. With summer tourism on the cusp everyone on the beach, including deputies, should be more aware of their surroundings, Ammons said.
After the accident Biernacki was taken back to the substation to check his blood/alcohol level, which showed there was no alcohol in his system and was issued a urine test to check for drugs in his system.
"This is commonplace for accidents involving investigators or deputies," Ammons explained.
After the accident, Smith said Bernacki was shaken. He was already scheduled to have Wednesday off.
"I was at the hospital with the family. They were very kind," Smith said. "And Biernacki was certainly very upset. It would be upsetting for anyone."
Although Biernacki was found at fault, he has not been placed on administrative leave at this time. On Wednesday, WCSO was still awaiting an official report from Florida Highway Patrol.
"Once they review the accident, they decide if there should be punishment and what it should be," Smith said. "It's important for us to be on the beach. We are committed to protecting the public and we will make sure this never happens again."