PINELLAS PARK — Police are searching for the driver of a silver Toyota Highlander who hit a cyclist Sunday night and kept driving, even as the woman clung to the roof of the sport utility vehicle and a witness chased after the runaway SUV.
Karri E. Bush was thrown onto the roof after she was hit while crossing 49th Street at about 10 p.m. She hung on for about 20 blocks, a stretch that police say would have lasted about 30 seconds, until the driver made a U-turn and she fell to the pavement.
A newlywed, Bush, 20, had her left leg amputated Monday at Bayfront Medical Center. Her family members were left wondering why the driver didn't stop.
"I don't have words for whoever did it," said Renee Simmons, Bush's 16-year-old niece. "It's ridiculous to not stop if you know you hit someone. Who does that?"
Police are trying to find that out, working on information given to them by a witness, 66-year-old Joan Ricci, who gave chase after Bush was hit at 49th Street at 86th Avenue. Capt. Sanfield Forseth of Pinellas Park Police said the speed limit on 49th Street is about 45 mph, which he said was probably how fast the SUV was traveling when it hit Bush.
Forseth said the driver had the green light, and it was Bush who should have stopped. She was wearing headphones and had no helmet or lights on her bike.
The intersection was well lit with street lights and ambient light from businesses, so visibility shouldn't have been a problem, Forseth said. Regardless of who was at fault, he said, the driver broke the law by leaving the scene of the crash.
"There were a couple of things she could have done that could have been safer," Forseth said. "If he had stopped, he maybe wouldn't have had a problem."
Forseth said the driver knew that Ricci was chasing him and drove north in a reckless manner to elude her. Ricci described him as a white male, but couldn't get close enough for more details.
The model year for the Highlander is 2000 to 2003. The grill of the vehicle snapped off when it hit Bush. Aside from the missing grill, the SUV should have a damaged windshield and perhaps some type of rack on the roof that allowed Bush to hang on for so long. The SUV probably wasn't damaged on the sides, he said.
At the 10600 block, the SUV made a U-turn to head south, and Bush slipped off. Forseth said it wasn't clear if the driver made the turn to fling Bush off or if, as the vehicle slowed to make the turn, Bush let go.
The brunt of Bush's injury was the left leg, which absorbed most of the hit, Forseth said.
Bush and her husband, Joseph Bush, married in July. He was with her all day Monday and was optimistic that she was going to be better, Simmons said. Investigators hadn't had a chance to speak with her because she was unconscious.
"I hope to see her tomorrow," Simmons said. "I'm pretty sure she's going to be happy that she's alive after something like that."
Police are asking anyone who witnessed the crash or has a tip to pass on to call Officer Michael Piacenza at (727) 541-0758.
On Sept. 12, a hit-and-run driver killed bicyclist Neil Alan Smith, 49, in St. Petersburg. There have been an additional six cycling fatalities on Tampa Bay roads in the last three months.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Michael Van Sickler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8037.