Latest road rage fatality in Fort Pierce highlights growing danger from impatient I-95 motorists

SOUTHEAST FLORIDA – Over the last decade or so, Florida’s heavily trafficked Interstate 95 corridor has gained notoriety among residents and visitors alike as a roadway more akin to a video game than a real-life driving experience, with the winners zig-zagging their way across multiple lanes of traffic to victory.

That aspect, coupled with an increasing lack of patience among the citizenry and a growing number of motorists packing heat, has left the Florida Highway Patrol investigating more and more drive-by shootings with many of them homicides rapidly being added to the cold case files. While the perpetrators of most road-rage attacks and highway shootings are long gone by the time the state troopers arrive on the scene, occasionally they stick around to justify their use of deadly force to law enforcement or simply because their own escape became elusive. The latter was the case of Zachary Thomas Feddersen, who used his own vehicle as the murder weapon of choice rather than a Glock 19.

According to the FHP investigation, multiple witnesses saw 26-year-old motorcyclist Alexander Boothby driving southbound in the fast line as he passed Mr. Feddersen’s green Ford pickup truck and tapped his taillight with his hand just after entering from Orange Avenue in Fort Pierce. The latter than abruptly turned his 3,000-pound vehicle into the motorcycle, which forced Mr. Boothby into the median guardrail where he then became airborne. None of the witnesses interviewed by investigators said they saw Mr. Feddersen attempt to correct his sudden turn into the motorcycle, which nearly caused his pickup to roll over and landed him on the median as well. They also said he never exited his vehicle to check on the motorcyclist but remained in the vehicle talking on his cell phone until law-enforcement officers arrived on the scene. Upon interviewing him, state troopers discovered that Mr. Feddersen had become irritated at the motorcyclist he’d seen zig-zagging earlier between cars on King’s Highway and flipped Mr. Boothbay off, an altercation that ultimately culminated in the latter’s death on the side of the interstate. The investigation also uncovered the fact that Mr. Feddersen, 25, had previously been arrested in a road rage incident last January in Martin County in which he slashed a fellow motorist’s tire. The FHP ultimately charged him with second-degree murder in the latest incident, and he was still in the St. Lucie County Jail as of press time Oct. 12.

Most I-95 road rage incidents, however, are not so quickly or easily solved. Last Feb. 19, Christopher Michael Maassen of Stuart and another motorist briefly sideswiped each other on the interstate before stopping on the shoulder near Donald Ross Road to talk. No one witnessed what happened next, but the unnamed motorist told investigators that a fight erupted between the two and he pulled out a handgun and shot Mr. Maassen, who was unarmed. By the time FHP arrived on the scene, the 29-year-old recent Missouri transplant had died and the perpetrator was claiming self-defense.

The Hometown News has since discovered that getting information on such I-95 incidents can sometimes lead to a passing of the jurisdictional buck. While all local law-enforcement agencies along the I-95 corridor insist that the Florida Highway Patrol claims jurisdiction on the roadway, FHP Public Affairs Chief Peter Bergstresser referred a reporter’s Oct. 12, public information request on the Christopher Maassen case to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. That agency’s public information officer responded via email the same day that the case was still with the attorney general’s office and provided no further details. The executive assistant to State Attorney Dave Aronberg did respond to a subsequent Hometown News email and said they were checking into the case but did not reply with any further details by press time. Capt. Bergstresser also failed to provide details on other I-95 shooting investigations conducted over the last few years and simply provided statistics on this year’s reported attacks.

“These incidents are typically categorized as battery, assault, etc.,” he wrote. “Therefore, we do not have records responsive to your specific questions, except for the number of reported shootings on I-95 year to-date. The number of reported shootings on I-95 to date are 72 cases.”

Aside from Mr. Maassen’s killing in February, a handful of those 2021 shootings mentioned by Capt. Bergstresser include two teenagers shot in a road-rage attack on Jan. 19; a pregnant woman shot and injured Feb.1 on I-95 near Hallandale Beach Boulevard; a 21-year-old man driving north of Yamato Road in Boca Raton on May 3, who ended up in serious condition after someone fired four rounds into his vehicle; and incidents on both Aug. 18 and Sept. 7 at Davie Boulevard and Stirling Road, respectively, in which shots were fired upon vehicles without injuries.

Last year was not much different along I-95 either, with a Cuban-American family tragedy launching the year’s shooting incidents on Jan. 3, 2020. That’s the day 22-year-old Melissa Gonzalez was shot through the passenger-side window while driving near Northwest 79th Street in Miami. The recent graduate of Florida International University was accompanied by her 26-year-old boyfriend who was uninjured and told investigators he recalled hearing gunfire. When he realized Miss Gonzalez was hurt and unresponsive, he managed to steer the car off to the side from the passenger seat, jump out and call 911. The victim subsequently succumbed to her injuries, and Florida Highway Patrol investigators ruled out road-rage as the reason for the attack at the time. When the Hometown News requested an update on the case from the Miami-Dade Police Department, an official there referred the reporter to the FHP. Capt. Bergstresser referred the reporter back to the MDPD in his Oct. 11 email, and the Hometown News forwarded that response back to the MDPD requesting an update. Officials with that agency did not respond by press time Oct. 12.

Other 2020 incidents include a shooting without injuries on Aug. 12 near Hollywood Boulevard and a Sept. 14 attack in the southbound express lanes near Hallandale Beach Boulevard that left a 25-year-old man shot in the back. Most shootings along the I-95 Corridor end up in the FHP cold-case files due to the lack of eye witnesses. Its investigators did make an arrest in a 2017 attack in which Jupiter resident Michael Allen Shepherd, 49, was charged with aggravated assault with a weapon. The FHP said at the time that Mr. Shepherd had fired his weapon into a Chevrolet pickup driven by 52-year-old Stuart resident John Trevor Whiting in a fit of road rage in the early morning hours of Aug. 18 that year. According to the FHP incident report, the incident occurred in the southbound lanes of I-95 between Donald Ross Road and Military Trail after Mr. Whiting said Mr. Shepherd cut him off after entering the interstate from Indiantown Road in Jupiter. The report said the former aggravated the confrontation by pulling in front of the latter and tapping the brakes, which led to Mr. Shepherd firing his weapon at Mr. Whiting. Although Mr. Whiting was not injured or charged in the incident, the FHP did accuse him of escalating the situation by “brake-checking” his attacker prior to the shooting. FHP officials at the time acknowledged at least three prior shootings along I-95 that same year.

Such violence, of course, is not limited to the I-95 Corridor. Late on the evening of Oct. 5, a couple driving a black Kia Forte southbound on the Green River Parkway was shot at by a passing vehicle. By the Port St. Lucie officers arrived on the scene, they found a 20-year-old woman dying on the ground between Southeast Melaleuca Boulevard and Southeast Charleston Drive and a 21-year-old man inside the vehicle with non-life threatening injuries. Authorities said on Oct. 12 they are now searching for the vehicle possibly used in the attack and identified it as a late model silver Nissan Altima and believe it could have been a rental vehicle.

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