FSU community mourns, calls for pedestrian safety after student killed

The Florida State University community is in shock and calling for action with a petition with nearly 20,000 signatures after a fatal hit-and-run accident occurred near campus Monday evening.

Twenty-year-old FSU student Elizabeth “Ellie” Sims of Tennessee – known for her infectious smile and positive attitude – died after she was struck in the crosswalk near the intersection of Lorene and Pensacola streets. The driver, 18-year-old Willis Trueblood Jr., was arrested and charged with leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death, a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

“We will love and remember you forever,” the Beta Eta Chapter of FSU’s Alpha Chi Omega Sorority said on its social media pages. Sims was a member of the sorority.

“You were truly the epitome of an Alpha Chi Omega: committed to the FSU Honors College, FSU CHAW (Center for Health Advocacy and Wellness), an avid runner, a student of entrepreneurship and a fashionista.”

More: FSU student killed after hit-and-run in crosswalk; TPD arrests 18 year old

According to the Florida Traffic Safety Dashboard, the tragic accident during graduation a week and days before graduation ceremonies is the first recorded pedestrian fatality this year.

As the incident shocks the campus community, students and parents are demanding greater pedestrian safety more than ever.

An anonymous person created a petition Monday calling for a traffic light to be installed at the Pensacola Street crosswalk to ensure pedestrian safety in the busy area near the FSU campus.

As of late Tuesday evening, the petition had received over 16,000 signatures in less than 24 hours, and the number was increasing by the minute.

FSU freshman Daria Tiubin is one of the people who signed the petition in support of the traffic light recommendation.

“Everything around FSU is within walking distance and so many students get around on foot. “So it’s important that people are educated about driving in such a busy pedestrian area,” Tiubin, 19, told the Tallahassee Democrat on Tuesday. “So many people go to College Town, for example, and the only way to get there is usually on Pensacola Street.”

A description on the petition's website says that too many accidents have happened because people were driving too fast on the crowded road and that introducing traffic lights will help “save lives”.

In February 2020, an FSU student was struck and seriously injured at an intersection near St. Augustine and Gay streets. A week earlier, 19-year-old psychology student Natalie Nickchen died after she was struck by a driver in a crosswalk on West Tennessee Street.

The student's death four years ago sparked a similar online petition that garnered nearly 18,000 signatures to improve pedestrian safety on West Tennessee Street by building a pedestrian bridge or additional tunnel at Tennessee Street and Stadium Drive.

Related news: Online petition for more pedestrian safety on Tennessee Street receives over 10,000 signatures

Former FSU President John Thrasher said at the time that the university was in discussions with state and local officials about improving pedestrian safety on Tennessee Street. Additionally, in 2020, a bill (SB 1000) to create and improve pedestrian crossings across the state was approved by a Senate panel but was defeated in appropriations, according to the bill's history on the Florida Senate website.

“The middle of campus is kind of a haven in terms of pedestrian safety, but if you go right away from campus, people drive recklessly,” FSU student and French major Carson Long said Tuesday.

Long said he often sees people ignoring the flashing lights on the yellow crosswalk signs near campus when students try to cross the street. Similar to how there are designated school zones near local elementary, middle and high schools for the safety of younger pedestrians, he believes the same guidelines should be implemented on college campuses.

“The truth is that the entire environment is made up of the campus community and the same type of safety that students feel in the Landis Green area should also be felt in the surrounding community,” Long said.

FSU President Richard McCullough encouraged the university community in a statement Tuesday to take advantage of the counseling services available to them on campus if they need assistance coping with the recent tragedy.

“We are deeply saddened by the heartbreaking loss of one of our students, Elizabeth 'Ellie' Sims, who was killed Monday when she was struck by a vehicle near campus,” McCullough said in the prepared statement. “Our thoughts and condolences are with her family and friends at this difficult time.”

Throughout the day Tuesday, several flowers, tea lights and stuffed animals were placed at the base of a crosswalk sign near the scene of the accident.

One of the plushies reads: “Love is Ellie. We love you so much.”

The FSU sorority has partnered with Sims' family to create the Ellie Sims Memorial Fund in honor of her life. Individuals can donate through the Alpha Chi Omega website at

A Gofundme has also been set up for the family at

“She is loved and survived by her parents, brother, sister and both her Franklin and FSU communities,” the page reads. “Please consider making a donation to help offset these unexpected travel and funeral costs.”

Further details on the arrest

Court records show that Trueblood told Tallahassee police investigators that the sun was blazing and he had his visor down when he hit Sims and was “panicking.”

“I didn’t know what to do, so I just left,” Trueblood Jr. said, according to court documents. “I hit someone and just screwed it up.”

According to court records, Trueblood entered a conditional plea of ​​not guilty.

When Facebook commenters pushed for additional charges in the online arrest announcement, TPD responded that the charges filed were in consultation with the district attorney's office and were “consistent with Florida law.”

“If additional charges are filed, an update will be provided,” the agency wrote, noting that the investigation remains “open and active.”

Contact Tarah Jean at [email protected] or follow her on X: @tarahjean_.

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