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Family of bicyclist killed on Clearwater causeway sues Shephard's resort

CLEARWATER — Hours before Christopher Patrick Weed barreled into a tandem bicycle on the Clearwater Memorial Causeway, he consumed "numerous" alcoholic drinks while working at Shephard's Beach Resort, according to claims in a lawsuit filed in Pinellas County.

On Sept. 2 about 6 a.m., Rob Lemon and his girlfriend, Hilary Michalak, were riding east on the causeway on a tandem bike when a Nissan pickup slammed into them, hurling the couple 50 feet apart, Clearwater police said.

Lemon, 25, died the same day. Michalak, 27, died Sept. 21 after almost three weeks in a coma at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.

Weed, 30, turned himself in to police a day after the incident and told detectives he blacked out on the way home after his shift at Shephard's, a Clearwater Beach waterfront hotel and restaurant known for its party scene.

In December, Michalak's family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Weed and Shephard's.

"It still hurts," said Edmund Michalak, Hilary's father. "Thanksgiving, Christmas were overshadowed by the loss of her and her death."

Weed, who was employed as a "bar back" at Shephard's tiki bar, was drinking "excessive amounts of alcohol" —- at one point with his supervisor — between 2 a.m. and 5:45 a.m. on Sept. 2, according to the 18-page complaint.

The lawsuit also claims that Shephard's violated the "dram shop" law, a Florida statute that finds an establishment liable if it sells alcohol to a "habitually addicted" person who causes damage or injury while intoxicated.

According to the complaint, Weed is a "habitual drunkard" who had consumed alcohol "on multiple occasions" in front of his co-workers. Other resort employees knew or should have known Weed was impaired when he left work Sept. 2, the lawsuit states, and Shephard's also violated "accepted practices" for hotels, restaurants and resorts in allowing employees to drink while on the job.

Michalak's family seeks damages of more than $15,000 to cover expenses that include her medical bills and funeral services.

Shephard's declined to comment.

John Leighton, the attorney representing the Michalak family, said he is in the process of contacting the Lemon family's attorneys, but declined to say whether they planned to join the lawsuit.

Michalak's father declined to discuss the lawsuit, saying only "it was a unanimous decision among all family members" to file it.

Weed was charged with two counts of leaving the scene of a crash involving death and remains in the Pinellas County jail in lieu of $125,000 bail.

Shephard's has a history of customers who have sped off from the resort and triggered serious traffic crashes.

In April 2009, Andrew Hall was standing outside his Safety Harbor apartment when a speeding driver crashed into him, severing his left leg and shattering his pelvis. The driver, Joshua West, was driving drunk after leaving Shephard's with a blood alcohol level of 0.188. The state assumes impairment at 0.08. West was sentenced to eight years in state prison.

Hall sued West and the resort under the basis of the dram shop law. The case was dismissed last year, but Hall's attorney filed an appeal and the case was reopened in September.

In August 2002, Wayne Massmann, 23, was speeding across the Memorial Causeway after leaving Shephard's when he veered off the bridge and plunged the Chevy Malibu he was driving into the water.

Two other occupants swam out of the submerged car and survived. Massmann, ejected from the Chevy onto the bridge, died at Morton Plant Hospital.

Laura C. Morel can be reached at lmorel@tampabay.com or (727)445-4157.

Family of bicyclist killed on Clearwater causeway sues Shephard's resort 01/21/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 6:47pm]
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