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Bicyclist struck, killed near USF

TAMPA — A speeding car struck and killed a Temple Terrace man riding his bicycle near the University of South Florida on Sunday, marking the 12th bicycle fatality since last summer in the Tampa Bay area.

The latest bicycle crash happened at 1:46 p.m. Sunday on Fletcher Avenue near the entrance to the University of South Florida Riverfront Park.

Late Sunday, Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies identified the cyclist as Robert J. Niebalec, 52, of Temple Terrace.

They said he was riding in a designated bike lane on Fletcher Avenue, heading east.

Investigators said a black Ford Five Hundred also was traveling east on Fletcher when it struck the cyclist. The car veered to the left, went over the median and into the westbound lanes before crashing into a wooden fence at the entrance to the park.

"Apparently the crash was a result of the Ford Five Hundred losing control while traveling at a high rate of speed in tandem" with another car, the Sheriff's Office said in a statement.

"From the preliminary investigation, it appears that the two vehicles may have been racing," said sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon, noting that it was too early to say for sure what caused the accident.

Authorities said the Ford was driven by Christina Perenzuela, 20, of Tampa. The other car, a Honda, was driven by Armando Perez Jr., 34, also from Tampa.

No charges had been filed. Neither of the drivers, nor a passenger in the Ford, were injured.

The cyclist was not carrying identification and investigators used a debit card receipt and fingerprints to learn his name.

Authorities were working late into the night to sort out what led to the crash.

"Right now, there is a lot of unanswered questions," said sheriff's Cpl. Michael Cherup. "We need people to tell us hat happened. It's very important for anyone who saw a black vehicle and a white vehicle traveling together to contact us."

The Sheriff's Office asked that anyone who witnessed the crash or may have information about the case to call the agency at (813) 247-8200.

While the crash was investigated, traffic was blocked until late Sunday evening from the eastbound and westbound lanes of Fletcher Avenue between 56th Street and Telecom Drive.

The crash again underscores how dangerous roads in Florida have been for bicyclists.

By far, Florida led the nation in the number of bicyclists killed with 125 in 2008, the most recent year for which national data was available.

Florida's bicyclist fatality rate that year was 6.82 people per million in population — nearly triple the national rate, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Since July, authorities have investigated at least 11 other bicycle fatalities in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.

Investigators have found a variety of causes in those crashes — from ruling that the cyclist was at fault, to determining that the driver was at fault, to saying that both the driver and cyclist were to blame.

Last month, the Tampa City Council held a bicycle safety workshop in which members of the Metropolitan Planning Organization presented a list of suggestions on how to improve bike safety.

The ideas included such items as improving roadway lighting, promoting bicycle safety education efforts in the community and creating bike lanes along streets.

Local bicycle safety activist Alan Snel applauded the effort. He noted the issue is as much about educating motorists as it is about educating bicyclists.

"It has been my experience that the motorists are very aggressive and there is generally disrespect of bicyclists by motorists," Snel said. "What's sad is there is nothing inherently dangerous about riding a bicycle.

"The mere act of riding a bicycle shouldn't cost you your life. Unfortunately that is the case in the Tampa Bay area."

Times staff writer Shelley Rossetter contributed to this report. Dan Sullivan can be reached at dsullivan@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3321.

Bicyclist struck, killed near USF 02/13/11 [Last modified: Monday, February 14, 2011 12:09am]
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