No criminal charges in crash that killed 19-year-old FSU student

By: WCTV Eyewitness News
May 4, 2020

Natalie Nickchen was a 19 year-old psychology major from Orlando. She died after a car hit her Thursday morning while she was using the crosswalk on West Tennessee Street.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) — The driver in a West Tennessee Street crash that killed a Florida State University student will not face manslaughter or reckless driving charges, according to a final report from the State Attorney's office.

Natalie Nickchen, 19, was hit in a crosswalk on January 30 while walking to class.

The memo says the driver ran a red light at the crosswalk. That's based on testimony from six eyewitnesses and an interview with the driver.

"Every witness other than one indicated they thought the light was red when [the driver] passed the stop bar," the memo said.

Investigators determined the driver was not on her phone texting or talking when the crash happened. The driver told police she was going about 40 miles per hour at the time of the crash, and eyewitness testimony and the point of impact supports that, the memo said.

Nickchen was looking at her phone and had headphones on when the crash happened, according to witnesses at the scene. One of the witnesses honked at her to get her attention, but she still did not look at oncoming traffic before stepping into the road, according to the memo.

Crash investigators say the driver may not have seen Nickchen as she stepped from the median into the roadway. She took only two steps before she was hit, according to the report.

"Ms. Nickchen stood 5 foot 3 inches tall. The metal fence in the median is 5 feet tall. It is possible that the fence obstructed [the driver's] view of Ms. Nickchen," the memo said.

According to Florida law, running a red light alone is insufficient to charge someone with reckless driving.

"Speed was not an issue, the road was not wet, it was not dark outside, she was not distracted or on her phone, she was not driving in an unsafe manner (weaving in and out of traffic, swerving around other cars), she was not intoxicated, her vehicle was in good working order, she was familiar with the roadway and she most likely could not have seen Ms. Nickchen where she was standing," the report said.

The report from the State Attorney's office also says the facts in the case aren't enough to file a manslaughter charge against the driver.

"Obviously the death of this child was an unspeakable tragedy. But every fatality, certainly every traffic fatality is not necessarily a crime," said State Attorney Jack Campbell.

The driver faces two violations in connection to the crash: failure to stop at a red light and unknowingly driving with a suspended license.

Police say the driver's license was suspended on Nov. 25, 2019 for failing to pay a traffic fine out of Levy County.

In the days after the crash, an FSU student created a petition calling for a pedestrian bridge to be created over the intersection of West Tennessee Street near Alumni Hall. As of Monday, the petition has more than 17,000 signatures.

One local architect also got involved, drawing up plans for a pedestrian bridge, and meeting with FSU PD and University President Thrasher.

"There's something that needs to happen with that because those designs, those crossings, something will always happen at one point. And if we can save one life, it's worth any amount of money we can put behind it," said Maxim Nasab.

Nasab says the plans for the bridge are on hold for now.

A redacted PDF of the crash report can be found on this page. Desktop users can find the PDF in the top right section of the page, while mobile users can find it at the bottom of the article.

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