Driving While Demented

A black man is killed by an 81-year-old white driver, and she's pretty happy about it.

Betty's recollection of the accident deviates drastically from the fatality report. Although the report said Bowen was not injured, she now claims her knees were slammed against the dashboard, making it difficult for her to walk. She recalls that Ervin died days after the accident, but he was in fact pronounced dead less than two hours after the crash from trauma to the head, neck, and extremities. Bowen believes Ervin could have stopped but chose to rev his engine and take his chances going around her. Witnesses all disagreed.

"Where did he come from?" Bowen repeatedly asked witnesses at the scene.

Where Ervin had come from was lunch at a Piccadilly cafeteria in Tamarac with a woman he was dating, Cassandra Williams. Over fried chicken, string beans, and fruit juice, they had discussed the Mother's Day presents they planned to buy at the Galleria Mall later that night. When Ervin left Williams, he was on his way to make a bid for a road-paving job in Pompano Beach.

Helen Williams lost a son to a wacky old driver.
Colby Katz
Helen Williams lost a son to a wacky old driver.

Ervin had started his business, Reginald Ervin Professional Seal Coating, after returning home on February 25, 2004, from prison. He'd been there for the past six and a half years — his fourth prison sentence since 1990. Ervin's list of convictions include cocaine possession, grand theft, car theft, cocaine dealing, and burglary, but relatives say he came out of prison a different man.

His mother, with whom Ervin had not spoken in 17 years, took him into her Melrose Park home, and they became close. Ervin began taking his 12-year-old daughter, Regina, shoe shopping and also to the arcade at Boomers in Dania Beach. "He was so happy with his life in those last months," his mother said.

She never liked him riding around on the motorcycle. He'd taken enough risks in his childhood on the streets of west Fort Lauderdale. He'd played tackle on the Dillard High School football team and graduated with a football scholarship to Florida A&M. Full grown at six-foot-four, 295 pounds, Ervin had left college and joined the Army. Just eight months ago, he had endured cardiac bypass and valve replacement surgery.

Since Ervin's death, the lawn at 200 SW 30th Ave. in Melrose Park has gone wild. The grasses have crept up the side of the house that Ervin repainted in a dignified white, and some unruly blades have invaded the driveway that he paved.

Helen Williams spends most of her spare time resting in her modest but comfortable home, several rooms of which her son renovated a little over a year ago. On a recent Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., Williams has yet to change out of her turquoise Palm Truck Center polo. She's exhausted but relieved to be home after another 11-hour day as a purchasing agent. Although she believes a stricter punishment for Bowen would be pointless, she does want something done to regulate senior citizens' driving in Florida. She'd start a group, maybe MAAD — Mothers Against Ancient Drivers — if she had the time, she says.

Florida is known for going easy on its driving seniors, a potent voting demographic. The state Legislature in the past decade has shot down a dozen bills that would tighten restrictions on senior drivers by requiring eye exams.

In 2003, Rep. Irv Slosberg of Boca Raton and Sen. Stephen Wise of Jacksonville were finally able to push legislation through, but it required only those over 79 to get their eyes checked when renewing their licenses — a baby step that even the AARP supported.

For now, Williams says she can only grieve.

"Sometimes I just feel like I got a hole," she says.

Ervin's daughter, Regina Ervin, 12, is sprawled in a recliner wearing her Sponge Bob pajamas. Her father has been dead a little more than three months, but Regina often catches herself thinking he's just on vacation. Without becoming sentimental — she is a very stoic little girl — Regina recounts the Saturdays she spent visiting her father in prison from the time she was 4 to the time she was 10. Her great-grandparents, whom she's always lived with, brought her down to the prison, the South Florida Reception Center, in Miami every weekend to spend time with a man she barely knew but always adored. When he came home, Regina got the best of everything — new shoes, new clothes, all the attention she could want.

Since her father's been gone, Regina has begun to "act out," her grandmother says, which includes mouthing off to her great-grandparents and spending time with boys even though she's not allowed. Her grandmother worries that Regina's sixth-grade year at William Dandy Middle School will be tough, considering how Ervin was the only one who could make Regina — an A student — complete her homework.

Regina says she's willing to try, but for now, she spends much of her time thinking about her father. She believes Bowen should be locked up and wonders if the old lady feels even a pinch of guilt.

"I bet she doesn't," Regina says.

Bowen has spoken on the phone with Ervin's relatives only once. That call was arranged by Helen Williams' sister Jackie, who says Bowen expressed no regret about Ervin's death. And Bowen certainly expressed none at her condo last week.

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