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Injured biker says Coast Guardsman was given a break in crash

BELLEAIR BEACH — Ed Welch was driving his motorcycle on Gulf Boulevard early one evening in April when he slowed for two pedestrians crossing the road in a marked crosswalk.

A yellow Mustang convertible smacked him from behind. Welch, 47, was tossed from his bike. An ambulance took him to a hospital with a concussion. A wound to his head required five staples. He needed six weeks of physical therapy for an injured shoulder. He had road rash from his arm to his hip. His bike was totaled.

The man who rear-ended him, Donald Lynk, seemed like a nice enough guy. He was apologetic. He even visited Welch at the hospital.

Welch soon learned, to his dismay, that the Pinellas sheriff's deputy who investigated the crash, Jerry Jagoda, was not going to cite Lynk, 28, even though the accident report concludes that Lynk caused the crash.

Sheriff's officials wouldn't say specifically why the deputy didn't cite Lynk, other than to say deputies have the discretion to decide whether to cite someone or not.

"At that point in time the officer used his discretion," said spokeswoman Marianne Pasha. "Each situation is different."

Welch believes the fact that Lynk serves in the Coast Guard in Clearwater played into the decision by Jagoda — who is a Navy veteran — not to ticket Lynk.

Quite simply, Welch says, he cut Lynk a break.

"I just don't see how you can cause serious injury to someone and not get a ticket," said Welch. "It's ridiculous."

• • •

Welch was upset enough when he learned Lynk wouldn't get a ticket. The letter from Lynk's insurance company put him over the edge.

The company wrote to Welch on May 10 that it could not process a claim because Lynk's policy had been expired — for the previous 13 months.

Welch started digging. He discovered it wasn't the first time Lynk has had traffic issues.

According to the Pinellas County Clerk's Office, Lynk was cited for careless driving in February and driving with a suspended license in May. A national search of public records shows he also received speeding tickets in 2007 in the state of Washington and other traffic tickets in Iowa.

Records also show that on at least one occasion, Lynk has cited his Coast Guard position to seek special treatment from law enforcement.

In May 2009, he was stopped during a joint agency checkpoint operation on Fourth Street N in St. Petersburg. Officers smelled alcohol on his breath and saw he had glassy eyes.

Lynk, whose Washington state license was suspended at the time, didn't pass a sobriety test.

Officers arrested him on charges of drunken driving and driving on a suspended license, and put him in the back of a police van.

"Once inside, Lynk was very cocky and was adamant that he was not intoxicated," the report says. "Lynk asked several times if we could just let me (sic) go or cut him a break as he was in the Coast Guard."

Breath samples later showed Lynk had blood alcohol levels of 0.082 and 0.09. Florida presumes a driver is impaired at 0.08 or higher. Records show Lynk pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving in November 2009.

• • •

Pasha said the department didn't discover the insurance discrepancy until after the accident.

"In the course of routine followup, the deputy found out he was not covered at the time of the accident," she said.

So on June 21, about 10 weeks after the incident, and after the St. Petersburg Times inquired about the accident, a citation for no valid insurance was mailed to Lynk.

Records show he paid the $116 ticket on June 30.

• • •

Welch's wounds have healed. He had uninsured motorist coverage on his bike, which covered some of his medical bills. He was not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash, and Florida law does not require him to.

But the situation, and the deputy's handling of it, still bothers him. And he hasn't ruled out trying to recover costs from Lynk, who could not be reached for comment.

"I'm not looking for blood," he said. "I can understand discretion to a point. I'm just amazed that this guy has been able to get away with so much stuff. He shouldn't have a license, as far as I'm concerned."

Pasha said the issue of discretion has been explained many times to Welch, and that officials are aware that he thinks the agency showed favoritism to Lynk regarding the April accident.

"We're aware of Mr. Welch's statement in that regard," she said.

The case, however, is closed.

"I'm lucky," Welch said. "But what if this guy goes out and does this to someone else?"

Injured biker says Coast Guardsman was given a break in crash 09/04/10 [Last modified: Saturday, September 4, 2010 11:24pm]
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