Driving While Demented

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On May 8, Betty Bowen of Pompano Beach, an 81-year-old white woman, made an illegal left turn into oncoming traffic on northbound State Road 7 in Tamarac and creamed a black man riding a motorcycle.

Witnesses told police that other cars stopping short for Bowen's bad move prevented Reginald Ervin, 41, from seeing her car until it was too late. Colliding with the front end of Bowen's Chevy Cavalier, Ervin was thrown from his bike, his helmet was knocked off, and he flew 30 feet onto a grassy swale. Less than two hours after the accident, Ervin was pronounced dead at Broward General Medical Center.

But things could have gone much worse for Betty Bowen.


Betty Bowen

For one, she came away without a scratch.

For another thing, she was wearing eyeglasses that she knew were not the correct prescription and made a turn that someone with good vision would not have made, but she won't be charged with a crime.

She wasn't even ticketed for the illegal turn.

Still, the woman is outraged that she lost her driver's license and cites only one real benefit in the crash. Bowen says she's glad she has helped "get rid of the niggers."

"One more off this Earth," she says.

Broward Sheriff's Office Det. Bruce Babcock recommended to the State of Florida that Bowen's license be revoked, but he did not give her a traffic ticket. Instead, he brought her canned goods after the incident.

Ervin's mother, Helen Williams, tells New Times that Babcock told her he didn't charge Bowen because of her age. But the detective denies it.

"There's nothing criminal involved in it," he said in a telephone interview. "For it to be a criminal case, you need one of three things: leaving the scene, DUI manslaughter, or willful and wanton disregard for life. It doesn't fall under any of those categories. You had an elderly lady with indications that she shouldn't have her license."

The number-one indication: Bowen tried to make a left onto SR 7 at a place where there's a median separating the southbound and northbound lanes. After she began her turn from NW 49th Street, there was nowhere to go but into oncoming traffic. According to accident reports, Bowen then realized her mistake and tried to make a U-turn across four lanes. Autos in the first three lanes slowed down but blocked Ervin's view as he approached at 45 mph in the right lane. Witnesses said Ervin had no chance as Bowen pulled in front of him, his motorcycle colliding with her front right bumper.

But that's not how Bowen remembers it.

The petite Wisconsin native has an apple-shaped belly and electric blue eyes. Though she rarely leaves her Pompano Beach condo, Bowen takes good care of her long hair, the outer layer of which she often dyes red and pulls back in two combs at either side of her square forehead. The bright gray bottom layer blends with red strands as they wind down past her uneven bustline.

"They took the wrong boob off," she says, to account for her shape. "Right over there at the butcher shop. Didn't give me any anesthetic. I had a towel over my face. Son of a bitch — he's a foreigner."

Betty says the man responsible for her botched mastectomy is called Ejah, but she can't be sure. After all, this happened five years ago, around the same time her health began to slip.

In addition to breast cancer, Bowen says she has "a fever in her feet," which may or may not be nerve damage related to diabetes. She believes she recently suffered a mild stroke but was able to recover. Her arms are covered in red spots she calls "nerves," and her blood pressure hovers around 200, she says. But Bowen has no doctor and takes no medication, save the blood pressure pills she once received as a sample.

"Fraud and lip service," she says of all her experiences with doctors.

Her pills sit neatly on her coffee table among nail clippers, a pair of glasses from the drugstore, tweezers, a razor, a mirror, a toothbrush, a file, baby powder, Tums, candles, cologne, and 11 pens. Having the items close at hand is necessary, as Bowen does not leave the couch very often. But she was delighted when she learned that a reporter was coming over. Bowen is fired up to talk about "that Negro son of a gun" and his "whaddaya call it? Road raging."

Bowen had set out that day for an oil change, an ambitious 25-minute drive to Phil Smith Chevrolet in Lauderhill. She hadn't ventured from the half-mile stretch of Sample Road in front of her home in months, but she had a coupon for a free oil change at the dealership.

The trip into unfamiliar Tamarac territory proved to be confusing for Bowen, as statements she later made to police revealed that she had no idea where she was or what caused the accident.

"Good that he's dead," she says. "He got what was coming to him. Standing there threatening me. He was zoom, zoom. I will hear that the rest of my life. Regular road rage."

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.

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.

"He got what was coming to him," she says.

"Geico says the police wrote a wonderful report on me," she adds, appearing flattered. She is aware that her insurance company paid the victim's family upward of $10,000 but doesn't connect that with any fault of hers. And regardless of whose fault the accident was, she says she doesn't feel sorry for the family.

"I'm from the north — get rid of the niggers," she says. "One more off this Earth. Geez. I'm so sick of it. No comprendo. No comprendo. I'm so sick of foreigners. God, Bush? Get rid of Bush. Those goddamned Cubans and whatever. Send 'em someplace else. Florida is getting a bad reputation."

Det. Babcock believes Bowen may have dementia or memory defects, but she never seems to forget what's missing from her own life.

She complains of having no friends — they've all died in the past seven years. She has no communication with her son or her daughter, whom she believes is trying to steal her money. She has no doctor. She has no means of transportation to her favorite store, Save-a-Lot, down the block, where she gets her candles. She has no social worker. Most days, she has no energy to get off the couch.

Her only dream is to get out of Florida, she says.

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