MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Rage on South Florida roads often leads to dangerous gunfire at high speeds and tragedy. Recently it has felt like road rage shootings are happening even more frequently. According to Debbie Goodman, a criminologist at St. Thomas University, there’s a reason.
“Road rage is the third leading cause of death nationally when we talk about and look at car-related fatalities,” Goodman explained, “This is now real-life fast and furious.”
Video from an incident in June documented just how it can happen. One driver, identified as Edward Popper, cuts off another car on I-95 in Miami-Dade County and then slams on the brakes.
The video showed Popper retrieve a gun from his center console. As the other car passed on his right, Popper opened fire, shooting out his own windows as he continued driving.
“If we take a look at 2020 to the present, the increase is double digits,” Goodman said, “And we’re looking at a 31% increase here in Florida alone.”
Notably, violence on the roads has spiked sharply since the start of the pandemic according to Goodman. She pointed to the most recent data available from Bankrate.com which showed Florida leading the country in road rage cases involving a gun.
Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles does not specifically track cases of road rage, as it is not part of the selections in a uniform traffic citation. Local 10 requested data for shootings on state roads, but that information has not yet been provided.
The Department did send numbers for “aggressive careless driving” which is defined as the operation of a vehicle that puts people or property in danger. Statewide, those numbers have steadily decreased, but South Florida led the state in incidents. Over the past six years, the state has recorded 20,935 aggressive driving incidents in Miami-Dade and 12,722 in Broward.
“It’s senseless. from little children being injured to anyone. I just don’t understand it,” said Susan Buchanan who lost her son to a highway shooting, “I don’t understand people’s disregard for life.”
Buchanan’s 28-year-old son Nathan Hillmon was killed on Dec. 18 on a stretch of I-95 in Deerfield Beach. Broward Sheriff’s investigators said Hillmon was in a white Mercedes with other people traveling northbound when someone in another car shot into the vehicle. The shooting killed Hillmon, a father of two young children. What prompted the shooting was still under investigation.
“But my son was the one who ended up his life being taken that that’s like the second gun tragedy in our family because my niece was one of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas victims,” Buchanan explained.
Her niece was 17-year-old Helena Ramsey, one of the 17 people killed in the Stoneman Douglas shooting tragedy in 2018. Both losses are even more painful Buchanan says because of the blatant disregard for human life.
“You know, he has two children. Who now, you know, they’re without a dad,” she added.
A report from Everytown Research & Policy found in 2021 the number of people shot and killed or hurt in road rage shootings nearly doubled from 22 to 42 people each month.
“There is a high probability and likelihood of motorists in the state of Florida with close access to a weapon, either in their console or in their glove box,” Goodman warned.
She cautioned, no matter how frustrating the situation, drivers should avoid eye contact or further provoke an aggressive driver who is behaving badly.
“The assumption has to be that the individual in front of us, behind us, next to us, is potentially armed and dangerous … We should not engage. We should not provoke. We should not again, even make the eye contact, it’s not worth it.”
While it’s not clear what has driven the apparent increase in road rage shootings, Goodman said the pandemic introduced new stressors into people’s lives as well as aggravating existing ones.