At a solemn roadside ceremony just outside of Ocala, Fla., on Oct. 22, family, friends, co-workers and state officials gathered to remember Otis Beckford, killed last year in a mass shooting at the engineering firm Reynolds, Smith & Hills’ Orlando office, as the state renamed and dedicated 6 mi of State Road 200 as the "Otis Beckford Memorial Highway." The ceremony marked a healing of emotional wounds suffered by staff members and friends on that fateful day.
“It’s quite an honor for a fine young man who was tragically taken away from us way too early,” says David Robertson, chief operating officer of RS&H in Jacksonville, Fla. “I hope the family finds some comfort in it. This will let his memory live on.”
A transportation technician in RS&H’s transportation infrastructure group, Beckford, 26, was working on improvements to State Road 200 when, according to police reports, Jason S. Rodriguez, 40, of Orlando, allegedly walked in and began shooting. Five people were injured, including Florida Dept. of Transportation drainage engineer Ferrell Hickson. Police apprehended Rodriguez within hours and charged him with first-degree murder. The case has not gone to trial.
Hickson was present at the RS&H office on Nov. 6, 2009, to collaborate with the RS&H drainage team on the project. Maureen Daly, an RS&H administrative assistant who worked with Beckford, attended the ceremony. She still misses him and takes solace in the fact the state has recognized her friend.
“I feel honored they took the time to recognize Otis,” Daly says. “He worked long hours on this project.”
Hickson recalls lying in bed, recovering from his wounds, pondering what to do to help Beckford's memory live on. "I wanted to do it for his family," Hickson says. "It was the right thing to do, because Otis Beckford worked in our industry."
After Hickson recovered from his injuries, he started writing letters to create that lasting tribute to his colleague. What more fitting way than naming the road Beckford was involved with on that fateful day after him?
That required an act by the state legislature, which Hickson pursued, convincing Reps. Denise Grimsley (R-Sebring) and Kurt Kelly (R-Ocala) to co-sponsor a bill that would do just that. Rep. Mike Horner (R-Kissimmee) also supported the legislation. The bill creating the Otis Beckford Memorial Highway in Marion County passed with unanimous votes in the House and the Senate.
“It was a joint effort to get the legislation through the legislature,” says Joseph Debs, senior vice president for transportation infrastructure at RS&H. “It reflects positively on Otis and how much all of us thought of him.”
The section of SR 200 designated as the Otis Beckford Memorial Highway runs from the Marion/Citrus County line and County Road 484 and is surrounded by environmentally protected, scenic lands.
“We were all connected by tragedy and this project, symbolizing our phoenix, will connect us again – this time in triumph,” Hickson said at the ceremony. Because of SR 200’s environmental attributes, it’s “a corridor frozen in time.”