Two young girls were hit by a car on Saturday and sadly, only one has survived.
On Tuesday, for the first time, we are hearing from Taylor Stewart, 15 years old, about what happened the day a driver plowed her and her best friend down in Lee County – then took off. Allana Staiano, 14 years old, did not make it.
It is hard for Taylor to think about the moment she lost her best friend, Allana. They were walking together down the street of their neighborhood when a hit-and-run killer struck them both.
“The mirror hit my arm and then they hit her,” Taylor said.
Courtney Gainey, 23 years old, surrendered herself on Tuesday afternoon to members of the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Warrants Task Force. She had been on the run since Saturday night’s hit and run crash that took the life of Allana.
Allana’s mother was finishing her funeral arrangements when one of her children grabbed her attention to tell her about the arrest.
“My daughter just got on her phone and said, ‘mom, she just turned herself in,'” said Christine Gray, the mother of the victim. “And I said, ‘I’d been hearing that.’ And she said, ‘no. Mom, she turned herself in.’ I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, it’s the first time I’ve probably smiled in days.”
But Christine does not want the community to lose its collective anger and desire to make changes, so no mother has to experience this immense pain again. After Christine spoke with the North Fort Myers Civic Association hours ago, it plans to bring all of her concerns and proposals to Lee County commissioners.
In the days ahead, Christine said she plans to continue advocating for change.
“At some point in time,” Christine said, “somebody’s gotta step up and start getting everybody who’s so mad about this stuff and stop letting it die.”
When a close family friend of the victim, Michelle Sweeley, first heard the news of the arrest, she said goosebumps were running through her skin.
“She needed to turn herself in,” Michelle said. “She needed to do the right thing but she waited way too long. It should have been done that night.”
Lee County Sheriff’s Office detectives met with the suspect late Tuesday afternoon at the Waffle House, located at I-75 and Daniels Pkwy., and took her into custody without incident.
“These incidents are absolutely heartbreaking and our condolences go out to the family,” stated Sheriff Carmine Marceno. “But leaving the scene makes it unacceptable. I have a special place for hit-and-run drivers and Courtney Gainey is there right now.”
While LCSO says the suspect did not stop to help, other drivers did.
“People stopped and asked if I was okay,” Taylor said. “I’m like, I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine, it’s just my arm. But my best friend might be hurt.”
Around that point, Taylor said her memory started to fade. She was hit in the head and did not “remember anything.” It was in the hospital that Taylor learned Allana did not make it. Taylor said she could not stop shaking.
“If I could do anything in my power, I would bring her back and so she could have fun and do what she wants to do cause she died so young,” Taylor said. “She had a whole life ahead of her.”
What you can do to make your neighborhood safer
Many like Christine are wondering what they can do in their neighborhood to ensure safety for pedestrians.
There are options to get road improvements, as well as more lighted streets and other safety upgrades.
- The Lee Board of County Commissioners in mid-2013 approved $3.1 million to improve roads in a project that is being phased in over roughly nine years and is using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and local gas tax funds. The project includes flood-mitigation roadway improvements and roadway paving.
- Residents who are interested in learning about how to make improvements to their neighborhoods can take advantage of Lee County’s Municipal Services Taxing/Benefits Unit (MSTBU) programs. An MSTBU is a funding mechanism available for community members to make improvements to their neighborhood with the approval of the Board of County Commissioners. These can be one-time Capital Improvement Projects (CIPs) such as road paving, sidewalk installation, installation of sewer/water/drainage systems, etc. Or they can be ongoing Operation & Maintenance (O&M) services such as routine road maintenance, sign maintenance, landscape maintenance, irrigation, street lighting, etc. For more information, click here.
- Lee County has a Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee. Residents who are interested in sidewalks are encouraged to discuss them with the Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee, which is a committee appointed by the Lee Board of County Commissioners to evaluate and recommend bicycle and pedestrian facilities to be built in the county. The monthly meetings are open to the public. For more information, click here.