Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Public safety

Clearwater man receives 11-year prison sentence in bicyclists' deaths

LARGO — Sue Houseman stood in front of the courtroom Monday, unfolded the typed paper and read her words to her son's killer.

She had written the letter on Mother's Day.

"I'm living my worst nightmare," Houseman said in a strong, but strained voice. "I continue to live it each and every day."

On the morning of Sept. 2, her son, Rob Lemon, and his girlfriend, Hilary Michalak, were riding east on the Clearwater Memorial Causeway on a tandem bicycle when Christopher Patrick Weed, driving a Nissan pickup, slammed into them, hurling the couple 50 feet apart. Weed, 30, drove away.

Lemon, 25, died that day. Michalak, 27, died three weeks later while in a coma at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.

Weed turned himself in to police the day after the fatal wreck. Police later learned that Weed, a "bar back" at Shephard's Beach Resort on Clearwater Beach, had left work early that morning after drinking shots and beer during his shift.

Last month, he pleaded guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of a crash involving death. Weed could have faced up to 30 years in prison if he had gone to trial.

On Monday, Weed was instead sentenced to 11 years in state prison, followed by three years of probation.

"There's no justice that will give me my son back,'' Houseman said. "Eleven years. What I would give to see Rob in 11 years."

Michalak and Lemon moved to the Tampa Bay area in 2012. She worked as a youth director at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Seminole and he was a manager at the Ride-N-Roll Cyclery in Largo.

Weed, wearing a charcoal gray suit and glasses, sat up straight in a chair as Assistant State Attorney Scott Rosenwasser told him Michalak's loved ones were not present because traveling to the community where she died would be emotionally devastating for them.

"It's physically too hard for them to come here," Rosenwasser said.

He read letters written by Michalak's father, Edmund, as well as her mother and two sisters. Edmund Michalak described his daughter as a "caring, giving, and generous person" who loved painting, bicycling, and working at a Lutheran summer camp while she was in college. She had a knack of picking out gifts for loved ones and was in love with Lemon. When she was in a coma, the family recorded Lemon's memorial service just in case Michalak would awake.

But Michalak never regained consciousness. She was removed from life support Sept. 21 when doctors told her family she would remain in a vegetative state.

"She can't feel the love of family and friends. She won't experience her wedding day, the birth of her children, the joy of teaching them, shaping their lives, watching them grow," wrote her father, Edmund. "She won't rest and grow old with Rob."

Weed remained expressionless until his family addressed the court. He wiped tears from his eyes as his mother, Marilyn Weed, spoke.

She described him as a loving son who took care of her when she was diagnosed with cancer. When he was in middle school, Weed babysat his little sister while Marilyn Weed, a single mother, worked two jobs.

"He is the only father she has ever known," she said.

Weed earned an associate's degree and had accumulated 130 credits toward a math degree, she said.

"Christopher Patrick Weed is my son and a mother's love is unconditional," she said. "There is absolutely nothing he can do or say that will make me stop loving him."

Weed declined to speak. His face red, he remained silent as Judge Nancy Moate Ley handed down his sentence.

"There's nothing that ever happens in court that can take away the pain of all the people involved," she said. "Your family has lost you for an extended period of time, but not forever."

Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727)445-4157. On Twitter: @lauracmorel.

     
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