Thursday, December 14, 2017
Public safety

250 bike across Memorial Causeway to honor crash victims

CLEARWATER

One by one, the bicyclists arrived before sunrise at Ride-N-Roll Cyclery.

Many went in the bike shop along West Bay Drive in Largo to greet the owner, Frank Lopez. Some hugged him, others shook his hand. Lopez recognized many of them, but some he had never met.

By 7:30 a.m. Sunday, more than 250 bicyclists crowded the shopping center's parking lot. They gathered early and trekked a 45.7-mile route across north Pinellas County in honor of Robert W. Lemon, 25, and his girlfriend, Hilary C. Michalak, 27.

The couple were struck by a Nissan pickup before sunrise on Labor Day as they headed east along the Clearwater Memorial Causeway on a tandem bicycle, authorities said.

Lemon died the same day. Michalak remained in critical condition Sunday at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.

Lemon was a manager at the Ride-N-Roll bike shop in Seminole, one of three owned by Lopez, where he worked for about a year.

"Rob was a really great boy, a great friend," said Lopez, who organized the memorial ride. "It was the main reason why I hired him. He was such a laid-back, really fun person. He was great to have around. He was great to go to bike rides with."

Although the ride was in honor of Lemon and Michalak, Lopez said he hopes to make it an annual event to promote bicycle safety along Tampa Bay's busy roadways.

Some of the bicyclists who knew Lemon said he worked with a positive attitude and a smile, no matter how busy the shop became.

"He was a quiet guy, but he worked hard," said Jermaine Jenkins, a bicyclist on the Ride-N-Roll racing team.

Lemon had recently purchased the tandem bicycle so that he and his girlfriend could ride together.

"He wanted her to basically be able to ride with him and keep up with him, let her know that riding on the road is fun and it's safe," Lopez said. "Then they had a tragic accident."

About 6:15 a.m. Sept. 2, Lemon and Michalak were riding the tandem bicycle east on the causeway's wide shoulder when they were struck by a hit-and-run driver. Minutes passed before another driver spotted them sprawled on the ground 50 feet apart, Clearwater police said.

Christopher Weed, 29, was arrested in connection with the hit-and-run the following day.

Weed told police he blacked out on the way home from work that morning and doesn't recall being involved in a crash. Police are still looking for the windshield of Weed's Nissan pickup, which was missing when officers searched the truck. Weed remained Sunday in the Pinellas County Jail with bail set at $125,000.

Tandem bicycles are uncommon in that area, Lopez said.

"I knew," he said, "it had to be somebody we knew."

Lopez's friends mentioned that the tandem bike involved in the crash looked like the one Lemon owned. Lopez text-messaged him. Lemon never responded.

The man who sold Lemon the tandem bike saw photos of the mangled bicycle in the news, before the victims were identified, and contacted Lopez. It was Lemon's bike, he told him.

Throughout the week, people have dropped by Ride-N-Roll's Seminole store to give their condolences, said Tyler Rose, a store employee.

"A lot of people have just kind of realized it was his shop," Rose said.

On Sunday morning, the bicyclists spilled onto West Bay Drive. They headed west, past the Belleair Causeway and onto Gulf Boulevard. They continued east on the Clearwater Memorial Causeway before turning north on U.S. Alternate 19. The route ended back at the Ride-N-Roll shop.

The bicyclists halted at the scene of the crash for a moment of silence. Lopez secured a wreath of blue flowers next to a tree where yellow daisies and red roses already had been tied across its trunk.

Minutes later, the riders got back on their bicycles and onto the shoulder of the road. They whisked across the bridge and were gone.

Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727)445-4157.

   
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