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DAYTONA BEACH (CBSMiami) – Jennifer Otto, 21, was on the cusp of starting her adult life. She was studying to be a registered nurse and was about to move into her first apartment.
Instead, on Sunday, her family received the news that no one ever wants to get – she was dead.
The Florida Highway Patrol said a wrong-way driver slammed into the car Otto was in while driving on I-95 near Daytona Beach. She and a friend, Maria Stengel, were returning from a trip to North Carolina.
“She lived life to the fullest,” said Kimberly Meola, Jennifer’s stepmom. “Always laughing. Everything was fun. I can’t imagine never hearing her voice again.”
Investigators identified the wrong-way driver as Alex Edward Jamison, 28, of Simpsonville, S.C. A phone call to Jamison went unreturned.
FHP Spokesperson, Sgt. Kim Montes, said troopers have a “suspicion” that Jamison was impaired. He refused to give a blood sample at the scene but investigators got his blood at the hospital with a court order.
FHP said they’re still sorting out the circumstances that led to the crash, like whether the wrong-way driver entered the highway the wrong way or turned around while on I-95.
Montes said that two minutes before the deadly crash, a driver called 911 to report the wrong way driver. Charges are pending in the case.
Otto’s family is devastated.
“She’s never gonna be married,” Meola said. “Her father’s never gonna walk her down the aisle. We’re never gonna have grand babies from her all because somebody got on the ramp the wrong way.”
Gary Catronio knows what Jennifer Otto’s family is going through. His daughter Marisa and her best friend Kaitlyn Ferrante died at the hands of a wrong-way driver in November 2013.
Catronio said a wrong-way detection system in place in South Florida has stopped 41 of 42 cars from entering some South Florida highways the wrong way.
“Our numbers are soaring,” Catronio said. “If that don’t make a statement and say, ‘Hey this works, let’s do more of it and save lives,’ I don’t know what we need to do from this point because a life is a life and life is a valuable thing.”
State officials said there are no wrong-way detections systems like this on I-95 where Jennifer was killed. The state is adding “wrong way” and “do not enter” signs along with road markings throughout the state to deter wrong-way drivers. It also has several pilot programs in place in other areas to stop wrong-way drivers. State officials also said they are using the information gathered from the pilot programs to determine whether similar programs should be instituted elsewhere.
For instance, a system along State Road 417 near Orlando has been in place for 48 days and has shown four drivers attempting to enter the road the wrong way, only to stop and self-correct themselves.
Otto’s family wants to see these detection systems everywhere.
“It won’t bring her back but nobody else will go through this heartache again. Nobody,” said Meola.