Lisa "Noodles" Hayden-Gordon's light-blue 2003 Hyundai Elantra was covered in muddy water. The ink-black detritus caked the windshield and windows, hiding her lifeless body inside. A tow truck dragged the Hyundai up a launch that led straight into the murky water, off the boating slip in Cooley's Landing, a marina located at 450 SW Seventh Ave. in Fort Lauderdale. As friends watched the car being hauled out of the water, the certainty of Hayden-Gorden's fate hitting home, they realized that the marina had no safety measures in place. No signs hung anywhere in the marina warning pedestrians of the boat ramps that lead straight into the waterway. No speed bumps to slow vehicles. And very few lights surrounding the area where Lisa's car had been discovered.
"I was there when they pulled the car out," recalls Adam Matza, a longtime friend of Lisa's, in a conversation with New Times. "It was apparent to me there was something about the situation that needed fixing."
Filled with grief and anger, Matza, along with a dozen of Lisa's other close friends, felt they needed to do something. An idea sprung up: Why not petition the city to put safety measures around the area to avoid another tragedy?
In the days following the discovery of Lisa's car, Matza revisited Cooley's Landing in the evening and noticed that the lack of lighting in the area was even more apparent. When Lisa had gone missing in late January, friends grew increasingly concerned. She had been troubled for some time, according to friends. Her family told police that Lisa suffered from bipolar disorder and was taking antidepressants. There's also speculation that Lisa had been drinking the night her car drove into the water at Cooley's Landing. Matza acknowledges this but says the marina is still fraught with safety hazards.
"Lisa was probably intoxicated," he says. "So you can imagine how much more dangerous is it for someone who accidentally drives into the water when they're drunk. But even for someone who isn't, it takes all but 30 seconds before your car is engulfed in water."
Matza points out that Cooley's Landing has poor lighting and that the lack of signs is a serious issue.
"You drive there at night, it's basically a series of circles and turns," he says. "You can get turned around pretty easy. And, until you're right up close to the ramp, you can't see it. And with no signs or speed bumps to warn you, it makes it even more dangerous."
Matza says visibility is so poor at night, even someone who hasn't been drinking can find themselves in danger.
"It’s almost nondescript. That wrong turn puts you in the water."
At first, Lisa's friends wanted to come at the city with angry petitions and force it into changes. Matza explains that one of Lisa's friends even confronted the Cooley's Landing dock master days after Lisa's car was found. The friend was kicked out of the marina.
"We’re still dealing with the grief of losing Lisa," he says. "And we are trying to keep away from being emotional about it."
So Matza proposed a more measured approach. He contacted the City of Fort Lauderdale to express the group's concern and proposed meeting with officials to see about having locking gates placed at the top of the ramps to prevent vehicles from slipping into the water. Boaters would be able to open and close the gates at will, but anyone driving down a ramp would be barricaded from falling into the 18 feet of water that waits below.
Matza and his friends did their research and learned that similar fates had befallen others in different marinas across the state. He noted that another woman, who had vanished around the same time as Lisa, was discovered in her car, which she had driven into a lake in Tampa. This led to a petition that eventually reached Sen. Bill Nelson.
Nelson, Matza said, sent word to Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler. And the city has responded to Matza and his friends' request to talk over the safety measures they're proposing.
The group is scheduled to meet with the Marine Advisory Board this Thursday. Those talks, Matza hopes, will get the ball rolling. The meeting will be a discussion on their safety ideas and on what the Advisory Board recommends. From there, the next step would be to meet with city commissioners.
"Our intent is to have a conversation with the advisory board," Matza explains. "I've read up on it. Florida leads the nation in these types of deaths. And we want to make sure the city officials are aware of this. We know our demands might be too high. But we do want to see some changes there. Preferably a gate that's strong enough for cars or a combination of better lighting and signage and reflectors and speed bumps."
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For now, Matza and his friends have started a Facebook page to make people aware of their safety upgrade ideas and keep people updated on their progress.
"There are a lot of upset people, over what happened with Lisa," Matza says. "We just want the city to hear us and employ what we suggest. I promised everyone at her funeral that we would make this happen. And we are."
Thursday's meeting with the Marine Advisory Board is scheduled for 6 p.m. at City Hall, located at 100 N. Andrews Ave., eighth floor. Matza is asking anyone concerned and supportive of the project to show up and speak with officials.