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St. Petersburg City Council chairwoman Leslie Curran in hospital after bike accident

ST. PETERSBURG — City Council chairwoman Leslie Curran was seriously injured after she fell off her bicycle Monday morning.

Curran, 54, was taken to Bayfront Medical Center where she was in the intensive care unit and in stable condition, officials said.

Citing medical confidentiality, Mayor Bill Foster said he couldn't disclose details of Curran's injuries. He said he'd been at the hospital earlier in the day to visit her family.

"I've had better days," Foster said. "Our prayers are with Leslie and her family."

Council member Bill Dudley said Foster told him that Curran had a head injury and was put into a chemically induced coma.

"It wasn't life-threatening or anything," Dudley said. "(Foster) explained it to me that it was standard operating procedure and that they were putting her in the coma as a precautionary measure."

City Council member Jeff Danner said he was told by city staff members that Curran had been hooked up to a ventilator.

"It's a shock," Danner said. "She was definitely safety-conscious."

Curran was wearing a helmet when she fell, officials said.

But what exactly caused the accident is unclear.

About 7:40 a.m. Monday, Curran was riding her bike in the Lakewood Estates neighborhood. She was trailing another cyclist, Brian Wilder. A third cyclist was passing Curran, but it's not clear if there was any contact, said St. Petersburg police spokesman Michael Puetz.

Both Curran and the third cyclist fell to the ground. City officials initially reported that Curran had been struck by another cyclist, but police said later Monday that this may not be the case.

"She fell, that much we know," Puetz said. "Physical evidence at the scene isn't clear. They may have swerved to avoid each other and fell. They may have tried to avoid a common obstacle and crashed. Or they may have collided."

Wilder, who is a retired CPA and co-owner of the Mirror Lake Lyceum, said he had his back turned at the time of the accident. He said they were riding about 19 mph against a strong headwind and she was following closely in his draft.

Wilder said a couple of cyclists they had passed were several hundred yards behind, so they weren't in a position to see what happened either. At some point, a male cyclist had caught up to Curran and was passing when she went down.

"She went down hard," Wilder said.

Wilder said the other cyclist told him that when Curran fell, he couldn't avoid her and ran into her and fell. He had road rash on his legs, Wilder said. When paramedics arrived, Wilder said, he didn't seek treatment and got back on his bike and pedaled away. Paramedics never got his name.

Meanwhile, Curran had a cut above her eye that was bleeding and scrapes on her legs, Wilder said. She was conscious, but wasn't talking, he said.

Later, he was told by her family that she had a severe concussion.

Police Chief Chuck Harmon said that Mike Jockers, a traffic homicide investigator, was assigned to the crash. Typically, any bike crash involving serious accidents and more than one cyclist will trigger an investigation. Police had initially been dispatched to the scene, but were told a minute later that it was simply a person falling off his or her bike, so they didn't go.

It wasn't until 11:30 a.m. that Harmon said he learned of the crash. It was then, he said, that he assigned Jockers to the case.

Jockers is seeking the identity of the cyclist who wasn't treated at the scene. Anyone with information can call police at (727) 893-7780.

Harmon said he didn't know how long the investigation will take.

"With her being medically incapacitated right now, we'd want to talk to her, so (the investigation) could take weeks," he said.

Curran talked with the St. Petersburg Times on Friday about bike safety after 16 cyclists were ticketed in a safety campaign. Curran said she rides her bike a couple of times a week, usually by herself or with a friend.

Wilder said they'd ride together on Fridays and Mondays for distances of up to 20 miles.

Danner said that in the past six to eight months, Curran had developed a passion for cycling and was talking about racing competitively in triathlons.

She is the owner of Interior Motives Inc., an art gallery and design business. Curran, who has three children, is a lifelong St. Petersburg resident.

She was first elected to the City Council in 1989, then re-elected in 1993. She was later elected in 2005 and most recently re-elected in 2009.

In her absence, Herb Polson, the council's vice chairman, will run city meetings and decide what gets put on the agendas.

"I'm pretty optimistic," said Lance Rodgers, a friend who is caring for Curran's dog while she's recovering. "I imagine it's going to be a slow process. But she's a tough cookie and she'll be back soon."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this story. Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or mvansickler@sptimes.com.

St. Petersburg City Council chairwoman Leslie Curran in hospital after bike accident 08/30/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 31, 2010 8:12pm]
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