Sentinel Staff Writer
February 5, 2006—For most of his life, Jim Phillips was known as a hardware man. But his advocacy for safer police pursuits defined the last years of his life.
Phillips, 57, died Friday after an apparent heart attack at his Winter Park home, friends and relatives said.
In December 2001, Phillips' life changed after his oldest daughter, Sarah, a nursing student, was killed when a driver being chased by a deputy sheriff struck the young woman's vehicle.
Since her death, Phillips relentlessly pleaded with law-enforcement agencies to change their pursuit policies, starting with the Orange County Sheriff's Office.
"This is my life's mission. This is what I'm going to do: to give her death some meaning," Phillips told a reporter shortly after he settled a wrongful-death suit with the department. "She was killed before she had a chance to make a difference."
In 2003, the Sheriff's Office tightened its policies. Phillips turned his attention to the Orlando Police Department, which also responded. In time, he became a vocal leader for stricter guidelines nationwide.
He created a Web site -- www.pursuitwatch.org -- where he listed national stories and policies regarding high-speed pursuits. Phillips wrote that his goal wasn't to eliminate pursuits, but to make them safer.
Chief Steve Jones, spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Office, said he and Phillips became good friends since they met several years ago. Phillips was passionate about things he believed in, Jones said.
"As cops, we're armed with guns. Jim came armed with knowledge," he said. "He changed the way Central Florida looked at police pursuits."
His impact reached across the nation. He testified at a public-safety hearing in Sacramento, Calif., in April 2004.
Candy Priano's daughter died in a police pursuit in California about a month after Phillips' daughter was killed. They exchanged nearly 1,000 e-mails over the years but met only once, she said.
"Jim touched so many lives," she said from her home in Chico, Calif. "He opened up doors for victims to have a voice."
When he wasn't rattling off statistics about police chases on television news programs and radio talk shows across the country, he worked at Forest City Ace Hardware, which he owned since the 1970s.
"He's one of the old hardware men," said his brother Michael, 55. The store "was one of those places where guys like to come and shoot the bull."
In addition to his brother, Phillips is survived by his wife, Patricia, 50, and two children, John, 21, and Mary, 15.
John Phillips, who is preparing to graduate from Flagler College in St. Augustine, said he was impressed by his father's motivation.
He wondered whether police pursuits will remain a public issue without his father leading the way.
"Obviously, it's going to lose some steam because it was all him," he said.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete.
Elaine Aradillas can be reached at email@example.com or 407-931-5940.
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