Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Fatal St. Petersburg scooter-wheelchair crash raises unusual questions

ST. PETERSBURG — A fatal accident involving a scooter and a motorized wheelchair has left police to ponder an unusual question.

Was the man in the motorized wheelchair driving a vehicle? Or was he a pedestrian?

"A lot kind of hinges on that definition," said St. Petersburg police traffic commander Bill Korinek.

The accident took the life of 59-year-old Thomas L. Wiemken of St. Petersburg, who was ejected from his scooter after it collided with the wheelchair about 10 p.m. Tuesday at Fourth Street N and 14th Avenue. Wiemken, who was not wearing a helmet, died at Bayfront Medical Center. His role in the crash is still under investigation.

On Wednesday, police turned their focus to the other man in the accident, Robert W. Kurczaba, 56, also of St. Petersburg. Police said he was crossing Fourth Street diagonally in the middle of the block.

Investigators have not determined whether charges will be brought against Kurczaba, who was in good condition at St. Anthony's Hospital.

If considered a pedestrian, a charge could be as simple as jaywalking. If he was operating a vehicle, it could be as serious as reckless driving.

The decision could boil down to the size of the wheelchair motor.

"There's issues in there about wattage, horsepower, things like that," St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz said. "Speed is also a factor. They want to get to a point where they have a comfort level."

The case could have repercussions in a city where motorized wheelchairs, also known as mobility scooters, are common on streets and sidewalks.

People operating wheelchairs typically are considered pedestrians. But because Kurczaba's wheelchair is motorized, police said they will examine the accident in greater detail before considering whether charges should be filed.

Pinellas prosecutors, who would ultimately decide about charges, could not be reached for comment.

Jeff Keel, a Tampa lawyer and former Hillsborough County prosecutor familiar with traffic laws, said he doubted Kurczaba would be charged, based on the circumstances.

"I don't see how they could elevate that to a criminal matter unless he was impaired in some way," Keel said.

Police said they are still investigating whether alcohol or drugs were involved.

Why Kurczaba was crossing Fourth Street late Tuesday night perplexed Todd Priest, the resident-care coordinator at Peacekeepers Den, where Kurczaba lived for more than a year.

Kurczaba frequently ventured up and down the street to nearby stores and restaurants, but rarely crossed the road, Priest said. It was too dangerous.

Most of the residents don't feel comfortable crossing the road, he said. "I just don't understand where he could have been going," he said.

Priest said he was shocked to learn that Kurczaba was involved in a fatal crash. He described Kurczaba as a friendly guy with a good attitude. He was never grumpy. He liked to roam the building, making quips, he said.

"He'd be the last person I'd expect for something like that to occur," he said.

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

Thomas L. Wiemken, 59, died after his scooter collided Tuesday night with a motorized wheelchair driven by Robert W. Kurczaba, 56, on Fourth Street N in St. Petersburg. 

Courtesy of Gilbert Rainault

Thomas L. Wiemken, 59, died after his scooter collided Tuesday night with a motorized wheelchair driven by Robert W. Kurczaba, 56, on Fourth Street N in St. Petersburg. 

Fatal St. Petersburg scooter-wheelchair crash raises unusual questions 12/01/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 1, 2010 11:27pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Study: Tampa Bay a top market for homebuyers on the move

    Real Estate

    The Tampa Bay area is among the top markets for homebuyers who are likely to move in the next few months, ATTOM Data Solutions says.

    The Tampa Bay area is among the top markets for homebuyers who are likely to move in the next few months, a survey found.
[Associated Press file photo]
  2. Tampa lawyer Fred Ridley to be new chairman of Augusta National, Masters' home (w/ video)

    Golf

    AUGUSTA, Ga. — Fred Ridley first came to Augusta National to compete in the 1976 Masters as the U.S. Amateur champion, and he played the opening round in the traditional pairing with the defending champion, Jack Nicklaus.

  3. Rays send down Chase Whitley, Andrew Kittredge; add Chih-Wei Hu, acitvate Alex Cobb

    Blogs

    After having to cover more than five innings following a short start by Austin Pruitt, the Rays shuffled their bullpen following Wednesday's game, sending down RHPs Chase Whitley and Andrew Kittredge,

    The Kittredge move was expected, as he was summoned to add depth to the pen Wednesday in advance of RHP Alex …

  4. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred moves closer to wanting a decision on Rays stadium

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred called Wednesday for urgency from Tampa Bay area government leaders to prioritize and move quicker on plans for a new Rays stadium.

    MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred talks with reporters at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017.
  5. Six home runs doom Rays in loss to Blue Jays (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — A curve that didn't bounce was the difference Wednesday as the Rays lost 7-6 to the Blue Jays in front of 8,264, the smallest Tropicana field crowd since Sept. 5, 2006.

    Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (11) greets center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) at the plate after his two run home run in the third inning of the game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017.