SATELLITE BEACH, Fla. — A week ago, Mark Nelson cradled his 12-year-old daughter, her life draining away on State Road A1A after she was hit by a vehicle at a crosswalk near Ellwood Avenue in Satellite Beach.

  • Sophia Nelson, 12, died after crosswalk crash
  • She saved 4 people with organ donations
  • Crosswalk debate underway in Brevard County

Sophia, a sixth-grader at Surfside Elementary School and an artist, hung on for a one special moment after the crash.

“I did get to hold her and say goodbye to her,” Mark Nelson told Spectrum News 13. “It’s a relief that she didn’t suffer long.”

After the crash at 5:37 p.m. December 22, Sophia was whisked away, first to Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne and then to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, where her death saved the lives of four people.

That was through her gift of both lungs, a kidney, and her pancreas on Christmas Day.

“We’re just happy that she was able to help in that way, and it wasn’t a complete waste,” Nelson said.

He choked up while recalling how the hospital staff honored her, singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

Scores of family supporters gathered at Pelican Park in Satellite Beach on Sunday, one week after the fatal crash, to pray, sing and comfort Mark and Jill Nelson. They have three older children, ages 16, 18, and 21. Each is trying to cope with the tragedy in their own way.

Their church, Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Indialantic, is providing spiritual support.

Meanwhile, a police investigation is ongoing. The unidentified driver of the northbound vehicle that hit Sophia remained at the scene and is cooperating with police.

Mark Nelson blames himself at times. He was with Sophia. He taught her to pay attention to traffic when crossing S.R. A1A. He reminded her often.

“You have to stop (for traffic) just like we talked about,” Nelson recalled telling her.

Their crosswalk was upgraded earlier this year with signs that flash yellow when people want to alert motorists of pedestrian traffic. Pedestrians push a button to trigger the lights. A total of 18 crossings are going up on the beachside highway.

Sophia knew how it worked. She crossed safely many times in the past by herself. It’s a familiar route because the Nelsons live just a few blocks from the beach.

And Sophia loved the sand and surf on the other side of S.R. A1A. The beach inspired her artwork.

On the day of the crash, Sophia pushed the button, triggering the flashing lights, and looked for traffic. Nelson recalls looking in a different direction.

But one vehicle didn’t stop, and Sophia didn’t see it until it was too late.

Nelson shares a growing concern among Satellite Beach residents about the crossings giving pedestrians a “false sense of security.”

He’s concerned about pedestrians becoming complacent, giving some a sense that the flashing lights provide some sort of force field against vehicles. That’s when accidents happen.

Her death is heating up a previously simmering debate about the safety of the new crosswalks. Brevard County Commissioner Curt Smith has called for safety modifications, saying the flashing lights should be red, not yellow, to be more effective at stopping traffic for pedestrians.

The crosswalk issue prompted a protest on Saturday.

The issue is expected to come up during future meetings of transportation planners and elected officials.

Steve Olson, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation, said in a statement that his agency will help.

“The Department mourns the loss of life on Florida’s roadways. One life lost is one too many,” Olson’s statement said. “The district traffic safety team will continue to analyze traffic conditions on the State Road (S.R.) A1A corridor, and examine opportunities for additional means and methods to increase safety. This includes ongoing education, outreach, and enforcement with local partners, law enforcement and the Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization.”

Mark Nelson, for his part, wants to become part of these conversations. That could be part of his daughter’s legacy.

“I’m think about getting involved,” he said, “and being a part of the conversation.”

Community members, loved ones, and friends held a vigil Sunday to remember 12-year-old Sophia Nelson, a Satellite Beach elementary school student who died earlier this month in a crash. (Courtesy of Nelson family)
Community members, loved ones, and friends held a vigil Sunday to remember 12-year-old Sophia Nelson, a Satellite Beach elementary school student who died earlier this month in a crash. (Courtesy of Nelson family)