Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Public safety

Bicyclists rally in Tampa for roadway safety

TAMPA — Bicyclist Michael Duriel Lee was on his way to work last August when he was struck by a car on U.S. 92 at the Interstate 4 overpass.

Thrown over the guardrail, the 29-year-old Lee, of Tampa, fell 80 feet and died.

The driver of the car fled, police said. What he left behind may send him to prison: a chip of green metallic paint. Investigators said they used it to tie the driver to the death.

It's cases like Lee's that brought members of Tampa Bay's bicycling community together Sunday for the South West Florida Bicyclists United With Dealers Bicycle Bash at Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park in downtown Tampa.

A priority, group members say, is to teach bicyclists and drivers that they can safely share the road.

"We're entitled to use the roads for which we pay for," said J. Steele Olmstead, a personal injury lawyer and member of the group's board of directors. "I hate to be arrogant. But we have the legal right."

A shirt he wore at the event offered a simple message: "I don't trust cars."

The group presented awards recognizing the work of several people who it says are making the roads safer for pedestrians and bikers alike, including Hills­borough Sheriff's Office Detective Jennifer Shelton and prosecutor Barbara Coleman.

Coleman, chief of her office's traffic homicide division, specializes in cases involving the death of a bicyclist. Shelton and Coleman are working together in the prosecution of the driver who killed Lee.

A tipster helped lead police to the driver charged with fleeing the scene of the crash, Christopher Jacob Kimmel, 24, of Valrico. He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

Investigators "found one, and one clue only, a small chip of green paint," Olmstead said as he presented Shelton with the group's "SWFBUDdy Award."

"A lot of times I hear, 'It was the cyclist's fault,' " Olmstead said. "Detective Shelton never has that attitude. She's a person who recognizes, if you break the law, you've got to serve justice. And she was out to get justice for Mike Lee."

Kevin Craft, owner of City Bike Tampa in downtown, said the burden of safety is on both the drivers of vehicles and riders of bicycles.

"There's an inherent risk riding a bicycle, absolutely," Craft said. "I tell people, as long as you are riding defensively, as long as you're riding like the car (in front of you) is not going to get out of the way, you're generally going to be okay."

Even his mixed-breed dog, Macey, knows a few rules of the road when she runs beside Craft as he bicycles.

"As long as she heels and stops," he said, "we're ready to go."

William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected]

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