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Police search for driver, vehicle in St. Petersburg bicyclist's death

ST. PETERSBURG — If anything needed to be fixed up or touched up, Robert L. Dunbar was the one to do it. He learned the skills behind bars, his mother said, and used them to help family and friends alike.

"He loved to work on cars, he kept everyone's cars running," Naomi Dunbar said of her son. "He was a jack of all trades and a master of none, as they say. But he always made it work."

Now his family and police want to know who was behind the wheel of the car that killed Dunbar while he was on his bicycle just past midnight Tuesday.

The 49-year-old was trying to cross 11th Street S, according to St. Petersburg police, when his bike was struck at the intersection of 22nd Avenue S by a black 2009 Toyota Yaris.

The crash caused significant damage to the car, according to police. The Yaris sped off west on 22nd Avenue S.

Dunbar was pronounced dead at Bayfront Medical Center at 12:28 a.m. Tuesday.

"We're coping with it right now, we really are," the mother said. "But we just need more information."

So do police. Detectives want to find the vehicle and who was driving it. But they think they already know who owns it: Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

A rental matching the description of the Yaris involved in Tuesday's fatality was reported missing in July. Police said 31-year-old Brooke Butler took the rental from her mother and traded it to an unknown person for two pieces of crack cocaine.

Butler of 639 14th Ave. S was arrested July 28 on charges of unlawful subleasing of a motor vehicle. Butler was still in jail when Tuesday's crash took place.

An alert with the vehicle's description and tag — 521-HAV — was sent out to officers. But a vehicle matching that description wasn't seen again until just before midnight Tuesday.

That's when police went to Bayside Drive S and Fourth Street to investigate a report of men and women brawling in the street with baseball bats.

The fight was over when officers arrived, but they spotted the Yaris driving away.

Another officer was driving east on 22nd Avenue when the Yaris drove past, police said. The officer made a U-turn and tried to catch up to check the tag.

The Yaris ran a red light at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street; the officer stopped.

Then the officer saw the Yaris swerve to the left and hit something, police said.

The officer sped to the intersection and found Dunbar. As others watched over the injured man, the officer sped off in search of the Yaris, but it was gone.

If you have information, call police at (727) 893-7780 or send a text to (727) 420-8911.

Times researcher Will Gorham and staff writer Kim Wilmath contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

Police search for driver, vehicle in St. Petersburg bicyclist's death 08/18/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 19, 2009 3:27am]
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