ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. - A local 14-year-old who family friends say suffered a traumatic brain injury when he fell from a golf cart on Tuesday is now out of a medically induced coma and talking.
The boy was airlifted to Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville from the Durbin Crossing neighborhood in Northwest St. Johns County.
St. Johns County Sheriff’s Deputies say fireworks were shot off by someone on the cart before he fell.
#BREAKING: @SJSOPIO tells me golf carts can’t legally be driven on the roads in the neighborhood.— Ryan Nelson (@RyanANJax) July 10, 2019
Family friends tell me the boy suffered a traumatic brain injury but does not have permanent brain damage. @ActionNewsJax https://t.co/tLwY8sGeH7
Road to recovery
The boy’s mother posted to Facebook Wednesday morning saying, “Luke had a good night. He’s awake and talking and asking a lot of questions as he’s piecing together the events of the day.”
Family friends tell Action News Jax reporter Ryan Nelson the boy suffered a traumatic brain injury but does not have permanent brain damage.
Durbin Crossing teen, Jacob Akel, was one of the six friends on the golf cart on Tuesday. Nelson spoke to Jacob and his mother, Darine Akel, on Wednesday.
“We just left the hospital and he’s making a full recovery,” said Akel.
Darine spoke to Luke’s mother in a phone conversation moments before the on-camera interview with Nelson.
“She wants to thank everybody for their prayers and their support,” she said. “He was very emotional this morning because she took pictures of all the support from everybody.”
As 14-year-old Luke works to get back on his feet, Darine says the concern from the community is resonating with the boy’s family.
“They’re very appreciative of the support from all of Durbin Crossing and all their friends and family,” said Darine Akel.
Darine told Nelson the boy’s injuries are no longer considered life-threatening, and he’ll need rehab for about a month.
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Traditional ‘golf carts’ not street-legal in boy’s neighborhood under county ordinance
Deputies tell Nelson the boy fell from a golf cart that travels 20 mph or less on North Durbin Parkway in the Durbin Crossing neighborhood.
The county has not approved these vehicles for use on roads in Durbin Crossing.
“A cart of this nature would not be legal in the community regardless of who’s driving,” said St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson Chuck Mulligan. “It’s not qualified to be driven on the roadways of that particular community.”
However, some "golf carts" are actually considered "low speed vehicles," and would be considered legal in Durbin Crossing as long as certain requirements are met.
‘Golf carts’ vs. ‘Low Speed Vehicles’
Neighbors we spoke to wanted to know more about golf cart regulations in the county after the 14-year-old’s injury.
According to a St. Johns golf cart ordinance passed in 2018, not all "golf carts" are actually considered "golf carts" in the eyes of the county. Some are actually "low speed vehicles."
"Golf carts" are defined in the ordinance as “a motor vehicle that is designed and manufactured for operation on a golf course for sporting or recreational purposes and is not capable of speeds greater than 20 mph.”
These vehicles may be driven by someone who is at least 14 years old, and they do not require a driver’s license. But, "golf carts" must be driven on designated roads approved by the county.
“A road that has been approved for golf cart use will have appropriate signage and or pavement markings to indicate that such vehicle use is allowed or prohibited as applicable,” the ordinance states.
According to the ordinance, "low speed vehicles" are “any four-wheel vehicle that can travel no faster than 25 mph. Low speed vehicles can be golf carts that are modified to travel greater than 20 mph, but not more than 25 mph.”
The ordinance says these vehicles can be driven on any county road, with a speed limit of 35 mph or less, by anyone with a valid driver’s license.
Low speed vehicles must have headlights, brake lights, turn signals, tail lights, reflectors, parking brakes, a rearview mirror, a windshield, seat belts and a vehicle identification number. They must also have a license plate and be insured, similarly to a car or truck.
If all requirements are met, then low speed vehicles would be considered legal in the Durbin Crossing neighborhood.
“A 16-year-old, and above, with a driver’s license could drive a low speed vehicle in that community,” said Mulligan.
You can find a complete breakdown of the ordinance from the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, including possible penalties, here.
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