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Man in wheelchair dies after being struck by St. Petersburg police cruiser

ST. PETERSBURG — Neighbors often saw Harold Charles Fleming Jr. riding through the neighborhood in his wheelchair.

The independent, friendly man they knew as "Hal" took care of his own errands, frequently riding his wheelchair to Sweetbay Supermarket or Home Depot.

"He always had a great outlook," said next-door neighbor Pat Diebold, 67, remarking how he cheerfully yelled out her name as he rolled through the cul-de-sac.

About 4:30 a.m. Sunday, Fleming, 45, was killed by a St. Petersburg police cruiser as he was crossing 38th Avenue N. Fleming was heading north near 64th Street, just a few blocks from his house, when he was hit.

He was thrown from his chair and landed along the north curb, police said. He was taken to nearby St. Petersburg General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz said he is not sure where Fleming was going at that hour, but it appeared he was heading home.

The officer who hit him, Mehmedin Karic, 26, was driving east on 38th Avenue and was not responding to a call, police said.

He said he didn't see Fleming, who was wearing dark clothing, according to investigators.

Police also noted that a street light near the intersection was not working at the time, and said crews will be dispatched to fix it.

The cruiser's airbag deployed in the crash. Karic, a sworn officer since October 2010, was not injured.

Puetz said the accident is still under investigation and that a report will be compiled for the police chief.

Among other things, he said, data will be collected to determine the officer's speed. A toxicology report will also be conducted on Fleming.

Fleming's sister, Rhonda Collier, said she and her mother are in shock. Fleming's father died about two years ago.

"He was super-fantastic," she said. "He always worried about everyone else but himself."

Fleming had been badly injured in a motorcycle crash in May 1984, just before he was set to graduate from Dixie Hollins High School.

Since then, he has been a quadriplegic, she said, with some use of his arms but very limited ability in his fingers.

Fleming went on to graduate from Dixie Hollins. He was grateful for everything he still could do. And he found creative ways to work around his disability, she said.

Fleming, who loved drawing and reading comic books, figured out how to feed himself and how to write.

"He wanted no one to really take care of him," said Collier, 48.

He also looked out for his sister, mom and nephews, and he kept track of everything, including their birthdays in his organizer.

Diebold, his neighbor, said she's not surprised that Fleming was out around 4:30 a.m. "because he was always out and about" in his nonmotorized wheelchair.

A neighbor for more than three decades, Diebold recalled that Fleming's father made sure he had a manual chair so he could maintain upper body strength.

Another neighbor, Dana Wilson, said Fleming was cautious, but she worried for his safety.

"I just saw him the other day and told him to be careful," she said.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.

Man in wheelchair dies after being struck by St. Petersburg police cruiser 02/19/12 [Last modified: Monday, February 20, 2012 7:30am]

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