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4 hurt when Plant City police's motorcycle stunt goes wrong

PLANT CITY — Lynn Connor felt like she was at a parade.

Tuesday was the Plant City Police Department's annual opportunity to shine before local business leaders. Four officers on motorcycles weaved around cones and drove in figure-eights at their headquarters Tuesday.

The chamber of commerce's Leadership Plant City group had lunch at the police station. Now about 20 members were sitting in the bleachers, watching fancy maneuvers.

Time for a demonstration of the department's radar gun as it clocked Officer Chad Rader on his motorcycle.

Rader took off from the far corner of the lot and started "flying directly toward the bleachers," Connor, 42, said.

Pamela Knight, who was sitting in the front row near Connor, remembers thinking "Man, I hope his brakes work."

As Rader got closer, Connor realized he wasn't going to stop.

Knight recalls a puff of white smoke, and the motorcycle falling on its side, then careening into the bleachers, tearing up Connor's leg and Knight's ankle, and injuring the police chief and Rader.

Connor and Knight were rushed to South Florida Baptist Hospital, where they're expected to remain at least through Monday. Connor has had two surgeries and a blood transfusion, and Knight has had one surgery. Both expect long rehabilitations.

Police Chief Bill McDaniel confirmed the incident, but declined to release a report about the crash, citing the advice of his attorney. He said the matter is under investigation.

The department had already been contacted about the possibility of legal action, he said.

Connor's attorney and cousin, Lindsey Gibson, said it's too early to say if they'll file a lawsuit, but they are "going to see what her options are."

Marion Smith, president of the Plant City Chamber of Commerce, said the leadership class makes the trip to the Police Department every year. Members tour the law enforcement headquarters, see the canines and watch as police demonstrate motorcycle patrol.

Connor and Knight think Rader lost control of his motorcycle but aren't sure why.

Rader wasn't available for comment Saturday, but a vase of flowers in Connor's room has a note from him: "Hope you feel better soon."

He hasn't stopped by to see how she's doing, though, Connor said. "I feel like they're trying to sweep me under a rug," she said.

Connor is on pain medication, but said it's still excruciating if anyone touches her right leg. The collision tore muscle tissue from the bone from just below her knee to her ankle.

"It was pretty traumatic," she said.

Knight, 39, is wearing a large boot on her right foot to help her foot heal correctly. It falls limp without the boot, which forces it to flex.

Plant City police are investigating the case themselves, which upsets Connor.

"I certainly hope that they bring someone from outside," she said.

McDaniel said he asked other law enforcement agencies if they would take over, but they declined, he said. He wouldn't say why.

Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Debbie Carter said her agency wasn't contacted about the accident, but it's not unusual for agencies to investigate their own traffic cases.

McDaniel said Rader had been injured but was back on the job.

Chamber president Smith said McDaniel suffered a wrist injury. McDaniel would only say he was hurt, but wouldn't give specifics.

Knight, an account manager for Tampa Electric, is in good spirits, saying she's happy no major arteries were hit.

Connor, the owner of Tip to Toe Day Spa & Gifts in Plant City, is trying to rest in a room filled with balloons, cards and flowers, but she's also been fielding calls and e-mails about Woman's Club meetings, the Plant City Pig Jam, a fundraiser and a tea.

Connor is involved in many organizations and events, and she says this is a busy time of the year for her. "The show must go on," she said. "I'm just missing a lot."

There's a reason, Connor said, why "they don't put the bleachers at the end of a racetrack."

Staff writers Ben Montgomery and Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

4 hurt when Plant City police's motorcycle stunt goes wrong 11/22/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 28, 2008 7:20pm]

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