Melissa Wandall was nine months’ pregnant when her husband Mark was killed in a car accident in October 2003.
Mark and his brother-in-law were struck by another vehicle that ran a red light.
Now, Wandall is joining Marc Buoniconti and The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis to persuade Miami politicians to keep red-light cameras at various city intersections.
“The whole community needs to realize that we aren’t talking about parking tickets,” Buoniconti said. “People running red lights is an extremely dangerous offense. People die.”
Buoniconti, himself paralyzed from a spinal cord injury he suffered in 1985 during a college football game, is the president of The Buoniconti Fund, the fundraising arm of The Miami Project. Buoniconti hosted an event in the Lois Pope Life Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine to urge others to fight against a campaign to repeal the cameras.
At the conference, Buoniconti, Wandall and doctors from the hospital frequently mentioned the importance of safety, and called the program an effective behavior modifier for drivers.
The red-light cameras have become a touchy issue for South Floridians.. Miami temporarily suspended the program after a state law required municipalities to hold their own hearings for appeals on red-light camera tickets. The City Commission is scheduled to vote on Thursday on whether or not to establish the hearing boards.
Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez is leading the charge to remove the cameras, saying that the program is more about generating revenue than creating safety for the citizens of Miami. The program has created more than $3 million in annual revenue for the city.
Wandall countered by bringing up that much of the fine money from tickets also goes to research for programs like The Miami Project.
“The No. 1 issue is definitely safety,” Wandall said. “But No. 2, look at where the money goes. It helps to fund very important research that could also save lives.”
To aid their efforts, Buoniconti and Wandall recruited Miami icons Don Shula and Emilio Estefan to record a public service announcement about the issue.
In the video, Shula, the former Miami Dolphins head coach, and Estefan, a Grammy award-winning artist, ask the public to push for the cameras. Estefan also recorded a version of the video in Spanish.
“Today is about two South Florida legends coming together,” Buoniconti said. “We want to get exposure and educate. It’s timely with the vote coming up.”
For the City Commission vote on the red-light cameras, Buoniconti has organized buses to leave from the Lois Pope Center so supporters can make their voices heard.
Ultimately, Wandall, Buoniconti and The Miami Project hope to make the issue a moral one, keeping their cameras and their funding.
“I just hope both constituents and the council understand the importance, the cameras are meant to save lives,” Wandall said. “This is not a place for politics.”