TAMPA — Kayoko "Kay" Ishizuka chatted with her cancer-research lab mates Thursday about building a new bike.
Ishizuka, 30, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of South Florida, had done it before.
But, this time, she wanted to make her own frame.
"She started talking about welding joints," remembered Dr. Robert Deschenes, the associate dean of research at the University of South Florida and her mentor of seven years.
To all around her, Ishizuka was the woman who loved biking. She biked every day, through all kinds of weather. In Florida rains. Through winters in Iowa. But in a tragic twist, Ishizuka was killed about 1:40 a.m. Saturday by a hit-and-run driver as she biked home from the lab.
It was dark but she had lights on her bike, wore a helmet and rode in the bike lane, said Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon.
"She was doing everything right," he said.
Acting on tip, deputies located a red Ford Explorer believed to have been involved, but as of Monday had not found the person responsible.
"She had so much ahead of her," Deschenes said. "So much potential."
Dr. Stephen Klasko, dean of the College of Medicine and vice president for USF Health, called her "among the best and brightest."
Ishizuka was attempting to decipher, on a molecular level, how cancer worked.
Deschenes said she was quiet, humble and brought great energy to whatever she focused on. "She was a person of few words, but a lot of substance," he said.
She was strongly independent and frequently came to the aid of others in the lab. "We just lose by losing somebody like her," he said.
Deschenes said he met her at the University of Iowa while she was a graduate student in the department of biochemistry. He left the university for the Medical College of Wisconsin and then to the University of South Florida. Ishizuka joined her mentor at those campuses, often working into the wee hours of the morning.
During the past two months, there have been three other fatal crashes involving bicyclists in the bay area.
On July 29, Leroy Collins Jr., 75, was on his bike in a crosswalk in South Tampa when he was struck and killed by a sport utility vehicle.
While riding his bike to work at Lawton Chiles Elementary School on Sept. 9, Joe Dyals, 46, pulled in front of a minivan driven by another teacher near Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Bearss Avenue and was struck and killed.
Three days later, Neil Alan Smith, 49, was struck by a 1990s Ford Taurus or Mercury Sable on Fourth Street near 73rd Avenue N about 11 p.m., St. Petersburg police said. Smith died six days later. Police are still looking for the person who hit him.
In a 2008 study, Florida ranked the highest for bicyclist deaths in the nation with 125 fatalities that year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Times staff writer Shelley Rossetter contributed to this report.