ST. PETERSBURG — A few sketchy witness accounts, a mangled bicycle and some paint chips in a plastic bag are all police have.
It is not enough to find the driver who fatally struck a bicyclist last week and fled the scene, said traffic investigator Mike Jockers, who has become increasingly frustrated by the lack of leads.
On Wednesday, Jockers stood near the site of the Sept. 12 crash that killed 49-year-old Neil Alan Smith and issued a public plea. Standing near Smith's mangled bike, he held up white flecks of paint and photos of Smith.
"We've gotten no phone calls," Jockers said to a throng of news cameras. "We need help."
Smith was just blocks from home when he was hit as he pedaled south on Fourth Street near 73rd Avenue N about 11 p.m., police said.
A motorist, a pedestrian and two patrons at nearby Brandy's Lounge said Smith was struck from behind by a white, mid 1990s Ford Taurus or Mercury Sable with tinted windows. Smith was thrown from the bike into a metal pole. The car sped away.
Smith's heart stopped on the way to a hospital, where he was revived but was in critical condition. He died six days later. He had no relatives locally but police reached a sister in Haverhill, Mass.
A dishwasher at the Crab Shack Restaurant, 11400 Gandy Blvd., Smith was riding home from work when he was struck. He worked there for about 12 years, manager David Rupp said, and was dependable and "never had an attitude." He kept to himself at his dish-washing station and listened to sports radio.
"He was a quiet guy, a nice guy," Rupp said. "He certainly didn't deserve the cards he was dealt."
Rupp said Smith had bought the mountain bike just three days before the accident.
Smith "was doing everything he was supposed to do" that night, Jockers said. He had no alcohol in his system. He was wearing light-colored clothing, and his bike had a light in front and a flashing light on the back. He was not wearing a helmet, Jockers said, but it likely would not have helped because the base of his skull struck the pole, causing internal decapitation.
Jockers said he has investigated only a few hit-and-run accidents in the past decade or so that went unsolved. Usually a family member or friend of the hit-and-run driver steps forward, he said.
But in this case, police have had little or no help.
The car would have been damaged in the front, Jockers said. The sidewalk near the pole still has faint circles from where the white paint chips landed.
Police did get two tips, but they led to two cars that didn't fit the crime, Jockers said. One was a tan Chevy, the other a blue Honda.
Emily Nipps can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8452.