New streetlights improve Roberson Road visibility

Two years after West Orange High alumnus Johnny Riley’s death on the once-dark road, the streetlights his family and friends have asked for now light the way.

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  • | 2:46 p.m. May 24, 2018
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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Even when night falls, drives along Roberson Road aren’t so dark anymore, thanks to the recent installation of streetlights.

The new lights, which were completed in mid-March, were installed in memory of 18-year-old Jonathan “Johnny” Riley, two years after his death.

Riley, a West Orange High alumnus, died in February 2016 after a car crash in the early-morning hours on Roberson Road, near Wesmere Parkway. Authorities determined his car had struck a power pole and then a tree before it flipped over, but the cause remains unknown.

Three months after the accident there was another eastbound crash on the road, directly across from the site of Riley’s accident. Although that accident wasn’t fatal, Riley’s family members and family friend Fran Cummings were determined to do something to better ensure the prevention of future tragedies.

They petitioned to have better lighting installed along the road, which was not well-illuminated at night. The problem, however, was that the portion of Roberson Road between Windermere Road to Wesmere Parkway is under Orange County’s jurisdiction, while the portion spanning from Wesmere Parkway to Maguire Road is in Ocoee’s.

Although the process was long, complicated and involved several government entities and departments, their wish came true in April, when Duke Energy completed the installation of the streetlights.

“It’s been so long in coming, to all of our chagrin, really, because nobody had any objections to it,” said Richard Firstner, District 3 Commissioner for the city of Ocoee. “It just was the speed of government. … If it was just simply in Ocoee and controlled by Ocoee, it would’ve been over and done with. When Nancy Riley and Fran Cummings brought this to us, we looked it over and discussed it very briefly with the city manager and public works director, and none of us had a problem with it at all.”

Because of the split jurisdictions, Ocoee staff had to contact the different county departments and District 1 Commissioner Betsy VanderLey to negotiate funding and responsibilities, Firstner said. Once the funding was secured, it was time to go to Duke Energy for installation. That was delayed because of the extensive damage across Central Florida from Hurricane Irma in September 2017.

“I live in Wesmere and go out Roberson Road every day,” Firstner said. “I know what that situation is with no lights. It’s hard to walk on that street — they have two very well-developed sidewalks, but it is dark. When (Fran) brought that forward I said, ‘This is a no-brainer.’”

As the streetlights were installed, Nancy — Johnny’s mother — began receiving pictures of them being put up from friends and family. The Rileys now live in Boston, but Nancy called Cummings, who confirmed their hard work was finally coming to fruition.

“I cried, I was filled with such gratitude that we were heard,” Nancy Riley said. “I booked a ticket to go to Orlando to see in person. (I) was speechless and just cried at the sight. I felt at peace knowing that Johnny would shine bright to all that drove Roberson Road. … The community has been a positive force throughout this entire process. I never thought we would ever be in such a situation like this, but I felt such support and love that would never be forgotten.”

April 30 marked what would have been Johnny’s 21st birthday, and Nancy and her other son have counted 21 streetlights spanning Roberson Road — the candles for Johnny that would never go out. 

“Everyone is overwhelmed and feels more comfortable knowing that (when) their child will drive on that road at night … it is now so visible,” she said.

“It makes me feel so good to know that out of this tragedy, something good is coming out of it,” Firstner said. “It was a terrible shame that young Mr. Riley lost his life in a car accident out there. We can’t bring him back, but hopefully we can prevent it in the future.”


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