Fernandina Beach Seaside Park Beach Driving Vehicles 5-24-2019
Fernandina Beach Access: Sadler Road, Seaside Park 5-24-2019

Local police have responded to two separate hit-and-run incidences on Amelia Island beaches, people who had been run over while sunbathing. These vehicular incidents on the beach occurred within a month, between April 24, 2019 and May 21, 2019. Watch the news video with webcam footage further below, capturing one of the hit-and-runs. The video also shows how beach drivers might not see someone lying down on the beach, depending on a few factors.

Two Different Beach Areas

Happening at two different Amelia Island beach accesses, each time police were called to respond, the female sunbathers described getting run over while they were lying down on the beach. Also in both cases, the vehicle drivers fled the scene. It makes one wonder, what’s going on? Why, suddenly, are people getting run over? No other similar incidents have occurred on Amelia Island, in decades, if ever. But in Florida where beach driving/parking is allowed, it’s not unheard of and occasionally happens.

Fernandina Beach Florida Beach Driving Parking Seaside Sadler Rd 5-24-2019
Fernandina Beach: Seaside Park at Sadler Rd. Beach Parking 5-24-2019

Peters Point & Seaside Park

The first time police responded to a call about a hit-and-run was April 24, 2019 at Peters Point Park, a Nassau County beach park on Amelia Island.  The second time was on May 21, 2019 at a city of Fernandina Beach access near Seaside Park. This is near the popular beach bar/restaurant, Sliders, at Sadler Road.

Those arriving at the Seaside Park/Sadler Road beach access for the Memorial Day holiday weekend will see a new structure at the entrance. “In the interest of public safety and information distribution, a guard shed has been placed at the entrance of the Sadler Road beach access,” a statement posted May 24, 2019 at the City of Fernandina Beach Government Facebook page.

Fernandina Beach Access Sadler Road Memorial Day Weekend 2019
Sadler Rd. Beach Entry’s Guard Shed, Electronic Sign 5-24-2019

While the first reported incident at Peter’s Point remains unsolved (no arrests to date), the driver who ran over a 53-year-old woman at Fernandina’s Seaside Park on May 21, 2019, was identified. Witnesses were able to get the vehicle’s Florida tag and police traced the driver to local Fernandina Beach address. According to the initial statement by the Fernandina Beach Police Department on May 21, 2019, they expected to charge the driver for “leaving the scene of an accident with injuries.” The woman was admitted to UF Health Jacksonville, and suffered “three broken ribs and a blood clot in her chest.” (UPDATE: The driver was arrested and charged.)

Action News JAX Video

Action News JAX acquired webcam video from Sliders Seaside Grill that captured the scene when a jeep ran over the woman (watch below, published online May 23, 2019). The newscast featuring reporter, Lorena Inclán, also shows a demonstration of how people lying down on the beach might not be visible to a driver in certain circumstances. In this case, depending on the direction of the vehicle combined with beach surface conditions, when there’s a ridge or downward slope (i.e. scarp).

Beach driving to park right in the sand on the beach is allowed in certain limited areas of Amelia Island.  And beachgoers, whether they arrive in a vehicle or by foot, do position themselves within the vehicle area. Thus, people and moving vehicles, as they come and go, are mingled together. This has always been the way here.

Driving onto the beach is very limited in the city of Fernandina, as compared to Nassau County’s beachfront further south on the island. The site of this latest accident at the Sadler Road beach access is the only remaining area (about 600 feet wide, north to south), where beach driving to park in the sand is still allowed. It’s a small area of the city’s six miles of beaches.

Beach Driving, A Controversial Issue

Allowing vehicles on the beach has been a controversial issue locally for years.  The topic was on the Fernandina Beach commission agenda recently. There are those who want to keep beach driving/parking on Amelia Island beaches as is, and opponents who wish to ban it entirely. While others think a reasonable compromise would be to limit beach driving to Nassau County residents only. With this second hit-and-run incident happening in such a short time span, it’s sure to add combustion to the controversial topic.

Long Tradition of Beach Driving

Beach driving is a long tradition that dates way back, long before Amelia Island was developed with luxury resorts, numerous hotels, and condos. Some have fond memories of the good old days when driving was allowed on the beach from one tip of the island to the other. Over time, as the island has become more and more developed, areas where beach driving is allowed has greatly shrunk.

Peters Point beach horses, campers, vehicles, Amelia Island, Florida
Amelia Island’s Peters Point Allows Horses, Camping & Beach Driving

Elsewhere on Amelia Island, outside the city limits, along Nassau County’s beachfront, Peters Point and American Beach allow beach driving and parking in the sand (non-Nassau County residents are required to get permits). Driving straight onto the beach and parking is also allowed at Scott Road, in a much smaller spot of County beachfront. With more people visiting Amelia Island and the beaches, the resources to monitor the shoreline and enforce ordinances is another matter that’s been getting attention.

Much has changed since those days of yesteryear, when far fewer people were on Amelia Island.  It was a quieter time, long before annual visitors surpassed a million people (when counting overnight visitors plus day trippers and those visiting family and friends who live here). Not to mention Nassau County’s population growth of the past 30 years.

Nassau County Exemption

Back in 1985, Florida enacted legislation restricting beach driving in the state (Chapter 161 : “Beach and Shore Preservation”) . However, five of Florida’s 67 counties were exempted, Nassau being one of them. Read the Florida Statute 161.58 to learn about the criteria for exemption.  

Wildlife and Beach Driving

The Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch has indicated that a sea turtle nest marked on the beach at the Scott Road Beach access has been run over twice already, with the sea turtle nesting season just beginning this month on May 1st.  (Island-wide, it’s not the only nest that’s reportedly been run over.) Pictured below, Nassau County has since reinforced the nest’s boundary at the entry to Scott Road beach with big wood posts and reflectors.

Scott Road Beach Access Sea Turtle Nest Run Over Twice in May 2019
Scott Road Beach Access Sea Turtle Nest Run Over Twice in May 2019

What is the stance of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission about beach driving around the state?  “Operating vehicles, including ATVs, on the beach can destroy wildlife habitat and be harmful or fatal to wildlife. This is one reason that, in many areas, beach-driving is strictly prohibited year-round to all but authorized personnel.” (Read more on this topic at the FWC’s website.)

Note that a large area of Amelia Island’s shoreline where beach driving is allowed on the south end of the island, is under state jurisdiction. Amelia Island State Park has beachfront from the Nassau Sound side of the park over to the Atlantic Ocean beachfront. This park is a favorite area of shore fishermen. Beach driving is allowed, even though Amelia Island State Park is an area of shorebird nesting. Seasonally, areas of this park are roped off, but birds don’t know boundaries and beach driving remains year-round.

Back in 1982, the other Florida state park on Amelia Island’s north end, Fort Clinch State Park, “began to prohibit vehicular traffic on the beach. Since that time, vehicular damage to beach vegetation and dunes has decreased dramatically,” according to the park’s “Unit Management Plan” dated August 2017.

Seeking Community Input

Nassau County residents can voice whether they’re for or against beach driving on Amelia Island (or suggestions for certain limitations). Provide feedback on other beach issues as well, such as the possibility of paid beach parking in the lots adjacent to the beach, and paid permits to drive onto the beach and park. Whether to keep or ban camping on the County beaches (or limit camping to Nassau County residents only), and more. Attend the Beach Working Group meeting (see related press release), scheduled for May 30, 2019 at 5:30 pm at the County commission chambers located at the James Page Governmental Complex, 96135 Nassau Place, in Yulee. Those who cannot attend can send eMail feedback or ideas to [email protected]. Your email will be included in the next available agenda for the group’s review (and become public record).

Paid Beach Parking?

Paid beach parking is yet another controversial issue in Fernandina Beach.  One that’s been talked about, with different sitting city commissions in past years, and recently, as well. 

Future Parking Shortages

Banning beach driving/parking without adding new beach parking elsewhere would create a more challenging environment to get a space at parking lots adjacent to the beach during the busy summer season. This already can be the case on weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Something to be considered is what conditions will be like with the continued upward trajectory of tourism and residential growth. Also, some local residents such as seniors with health issues and other people of all ages with mobility issues, rely on being able to drive a vehicle onto the beach and park.

Passions run deep on both sides of the beach driving issue, as well as paid beach parking. The Beach Community Working Group, evaluating beach conditions and receiving community feedback, will attempt to reach viable solutions that address the beach issues of today and those on the horizon. Pleasing all will be an impossible task. Whatever the outcome of this latest effort of adjusting beach regulations, as time goes by, change is inevitable. Ordinances will have to be tweaked to respond to changing conditions.

Published by The Editor

Amelia Island Living's "PERSPECTIVE" column features observations of island life, news & opinion.